Author: David Alton
Full transcript: House of July 16 Lords Debate on Article 18: Stop Killing Christians – including speeches by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, and other senior Peers from many faith and humanist backgrounds
Freedom of Religion and Belief
Motion to Take Note
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Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To move that this House takes note of worldwide violations of Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the case for greater priority to be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who take part in today’s debate. We have a speakers list of great distinction, underlining the importance of this subject. It is also a debate that will see the valedictory speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who has given such distinguished service to your Lordships’ House. The backdrop to all our speeches is Article 18, one of the 30 articles of the 1948 Declaration…
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2015 The Year of the Refugees – “just put yourself in their shoes” – Full House of Lords debate and Government response. And a reply from a North Korean refugee.
Footnote to the debate which follows: What struck me about the Minister’s reply to the debate was that he said we needed to be ambitious in our thinking but then said little to suggest either ambition or an appreciation of the sheer scale of this crisis. Is it so far-fetched to imagine creating some new city states – backed by the equivalent of a Marshall Aid Programme – where fleeing migrants could rebuild their lives and be given some sense of hope? Would this be so very different to those Scots who went to Nova Scotia, the Irish who fled famine to make new homes in America, the Welsh migrants who went to Patagonia, or the English who settled in Australia, Canada and so many parts of the world? An internationally protected safe haven with opportunities for work and prosperity would also be the perfect answer to the world’s other new State – Daesh’s caliphate: Islamic State. A safe haven – like those we created in the eighteenth century in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and the home created by the U.S. for freed slaves in Liberia – would offer an alternative to destitution, exploitation, years in refugee camps or death at sea. A North African safe haven might be linked to the suggestion of turning the Sahara into a massive solar energy producing resource – a huge job creating opportunity which would also combat carbon emissions and reduce reliance on despots who sell us their oil and gas. Yes it’s “ambitious” to think like this but if we ask ourselves the question, what must it be like to be at the mercy of ISIS or to be living in the shadow of tyranny and unspeakable violence, wouldn’t we also want to try and get our loved ones to safety or want to make a better life? Just put yourself in their shoes. Following the debate, Ministers from across Whitehall are to meet to discuss the crisis. They, too, need to put themselves into the shoes of the millions on the move – in what will surely become known as the year of the refugees – and do more than erect a high wire fence at Calais.
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Refugees and Migrants from Asia and Africa
Motion to Take Note
2.18 pm: July 9th 2015
Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool
That this House takes note of the displacement of refugees and migrants from Asia and Africa and to the long-term and short-term measures to address their plight. Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I thank my noble friends on the Cross Benches for choosing this Motion for debate, along with all noble Lords who will speak today, and the staff of the House of Lords Library for their excellent briefing note. In returning to a crisis which we briefly addressed in Grand Committee on 18 June, there are three things which I want to address: first, the scale of the challenge; secondly the circumstances which prevail in the countries from which migrants originate; and thirdly, our response. In 1938, after Kristallnacht, and the attempts of many Jews to flee Nazism, the remarkable Independent Member of Parliament, Eleanor Rathbone, known as the refugees’ MP, and noted for her hostility to appeasement, established the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees. Two years later, on 10 July 1940, in a six-hour debate, she intervened no fewer than 20 times to insist that Britain had a duty of care for the refugees being hunted down by the Nazis. She said that a nation had an obligation to give succour to those fleeing persecution, and in her words, “not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 10/7/40; col. 1212.] We might bear in mind those words as we reflect on the debate that she initiated. She said that those debates, “always begin with an acknowledgement of the terrible nature of the problem and expressions of sympathy with the victims. Then comes a tribute to the work of the voluntary organisations. Then some account of the small leisurely steps taken by the Government. Next, a recital of the obstacles—fear of anti-semitism, or the jealousy of the unemployed, or of encouraging other nations to offload their Jews on to us”. We may no longer be dealing with Jewish refugees, but there are many parallels. Perhaps her hard-headed humanitarianism should form the backdrop to our debate, which is taking place in the context of the largest movement of peoples since World War II.
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I turn to the scale of the challenge facing us. At the conclusion of 2014, the United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, reported that, worldwide, 54.9 million people were refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced persons, with a further 59.5 million forcibly displaced. The UNHCR says that Africa has 4.6 million refugees and 10 million internally displaced people under its mandate. Darfur alone, where I visited refugee camps, has seen the loss of 300,000 lives, more than 2 million displaced, with 400,000 more IDPs added last year alone.
In Asia, there are 9 million refugees and 15 million internally displaced people. Afghanistan generates the second largest number of refugees worldwide, while Burma is awash with refugees, including thousands of Rohingyas, cast adrift in rickety boats in the Andaman Sea. These new boat people bring to mind the Vietnamese boat people, whose camps I visited as a young MP. I also served as president of Karenaid. Last week the noble Earl, the Minister, confirmed that there are 110,094 Karen refugees in camps, which I visited on the Burmese border. Some have been there for decades. Will the noble Earl say whether we are talking to ASEAN about developing a strategy for that region’s refugees and what practical help we are giving to search, rescue and resettlement?
Of course, much closer to home, destitution and desperation have arrived on our own European doorstep, with half a million more people reported to be in Libya waiting to join the exodus. Some 46% of those making these perilous crossings originate from Eritrea or Syria, where we continue to witness the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our time. Human beings are being turned into flotsam and jetsam, with some 3,500 people fished from the sea, dead, with 1,800 corpses reclaimed this year alone. And who can forget the harrowing images of the hundreds who died in April when their fishing boat capsized, or the rescue from “Ezadeen”, a livestock freighter, when 360 Syrian refugees—including 70 children—were seized from the clutches of racketeers? This year 137,000 migrants, including 6,413 children, 4,063 of whom were unaccompanied, have so far reached southern Europe. Will the noble Earl say—when children, inevitably the most vulnerable, are involved—how we meet our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Is he aware of the call made only yesterday by Save the Children that, as a matter of urgency, the United Kingdom should take 1,500 children immediately, a request that I certainly agree with? Some of those children have been brought to safety by the gallant crew of HMS “Bulwark”; we all pay tribute to their rescuing thousands of migrants. However, its replacement, HMS “Enterprise”, has a much smaller capacity. The Government need to tell us how they expect “Enterprise” to balance rescue operations and the apprehension of smugglers, and to clarify the legal status of those who are rescued by a Royal Navy ship, as asked for on 18 June by my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. Those fleeing have to raise staggering sums of money, often indebting themselves to the smugglers, leading to exploitation and slave labour. Italian sources say that smuggling is generating revenue for organised
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crime and terrorist organisations such as ISIS. Will the noble Earl tell us how many of these profiteers have been arrested or prosecuted? Italy has spent some €800 million on rescue operations and in camps such as Lampedusa. Matteo Renzi, Italy’s Prime Minister, rightly describes the EU’s collective response as “largely insufficient”. Italy and Greece are inundated with refugees, and now a land route has opened between Turkey, Macedonia and Serbia, with an estimated 60,000 people illegally entering Hungary in 2015. As recently as Tuesday, 19 died when a smuggler’s boat heading for Greece capsized. Last week, Hungary indefinitely suspended EU asylum rules and is considering erecting high fences along its borders, in a Europe which once rejoiced in the smashing down of walls. But is that so very different from the high-security fences being erected in Calais, where, in the course of just four hours, 350 stowaways were evicted from British-bound lorries in scenes reminiscent of bedlam? Fifteen people living in makeshift camps in Calais have died in the last 12 months. This week, we heard of a further death of someone on a cross-channel freight train. FRONTEX, the European border agency, says that it is completely overwhelmed, and with Italy also threatening to disregard the Schengen rules it is clear that no one country can deal with this crisis and that it requires careful reflection about free movement. It is a global crisis in need of global solutions.
Those numbing statistics tell only a part of the story. What surely matters most is why people are risking their lives and what our response should be. It is abundantly clear that populations will continue to haemorrhage unless we tackle the reasons for these vast displacements at source. Four of the countries generating the most migrants and refugees are Syria, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea. I shall use them to illustrate my point as I argue that the House should carefully consider the connection between our foreign affairs, defence and development policies, and their interplay with mass migration, a crisis that is compounded by climate change. I know that that is something that the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, who is in his place, is particularly interested in, but if climate change is happening this situation is only going to get worse.
Despotic governments and terrorist organisations have been the major immediate catalysts for conflict and mass migration, but aerial bombardment without a presence on the ground, a post-conflict development strategy, or a new attempt at creating peace will simply generate more refugees. Last week I met a leading figure from a humanitarian group working in Syria and Lebanon. He described the 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon as, “a demographic bombshell, threatening the stability of that country”. In the 1980s I visited Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps at Shatila and Sabra; leave people to fester in a refugee camp such as those and you create cannon fodder for terrorists and militias. I wonder whether the new refugees will suffer a similar fate of being in camps 30 years later. In the short term, what we are doing to ensure that bolder steps are taken under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2165 and 2191 to deliver aid securely to Syria for longer
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periods of time, reaching more civilians in need, might help to stem that flow of refugees. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell us what we are doing about that. Ministers have rightly argued that those responsible for Syria’s atrocities should be tried in the International Criminal Court, but have we taken that proposal back to the Security Council, which initially rejected it because of the vetoes of China and Russia?
Today is the fourth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, but there is little to celebrate. At a briefing this morning that my noble friend Lord Sandwich and I attended we were told that conflict there has generated more than 2 million displaced people and half a million refugees.
While, in the north, 12 July marks five years since Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir had genocide added to the list of crimes he is accused of having committed—the 300,000 deaths in Darfur and 2 million refugees I referred to earlier. Yet, last month, al-Bashir travelled freely to an African Union summit in South Africa. Failure to arrest him was a blow to every refugee forced to flee their home, and to the rule of law. It undermines the authority of the United Nations. What does this culture of impunity say to other despots who we now want to bring before the ICC? Even while al-Bashir was safely travelling home, the United Nations published the findings of its commission of inquiry into human rights in Eritrea—my third example of the need to tackle the sources of migration. The United Nations found that, “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the Government”. The report also says: that it is wrong to describe the drivers fuelling mass migration as purely economic, and:
“Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection”.
Every month around 5,000 people leave Eritrea—more than 350,000 so far—around 10% of the entire population. The UN says that, during their journeys:
“Thousands of Eritreans are killed at sea while attempting to reach European shores. The practice of kidnapping migrating individuals, who are released on ransom after enduring horrible torture or killed, targets Eritreans in particular”.
Noble Lords will have seen reports that some Christian Eritreans who reached Libya have been beheaded by ISIS, which it then publicised, with all its barbarity, on YouTube.
Those Eritrean refugees who have been forced to return have then been arrested, detained and subjected to ill treatment and torture. So refugees from Eritrea, Sudan and Syria, comprising more than half the Mediterranean migrants, represent what we need to do—tackle the problem at source. Then we would turn the tables on mass migration, ending the tsunami of people. However, not all people fleeing their countries are refugees; some are economic migrants. We will not properly address this crisis without some bigger-picture policies aimed at them, which must include the aim of helping Africa become peaceful and prosperous, and therefore more attractive as a permanent home. This is where our development policies interplay with mass migration.
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The bigger picture includes a Europe, US and Japan which make it harder for Africa to prosper by propping up murderous, corrupt dictators with our misguided aid and arms sales; dumping our subsidised agricultural surplus on their markets; and laundering money stolen by their elites. We also need to balance the work we have done in using development programmes to train women, which were admirable, when boys and men also need economically useful skills and a sense of purpose, too. They make up the lion’s share of mass migration. In countries where economics drives migration, there should be public information campaigns, highlighting the fate of too many of those who have been lured into embarking on their perilous journeys. That takes me to my final point: our response A thoughtful, generous, humane, international strategic response is the only way to address this phenomenal global challenge. The children’s parlour game of pass the parcel had its origins in 1888, when a lighted candle was passed along a row of people. The first recipient says, “Jack’s alive and likely to live. If he dies in your hand, you’ve a forfeit to give”. As nations now argue about who will have to pay the forfeit, and as we hold lives in our hands, we must combat xenophobia and assert humanity’s shared responsibility. Here we should be looking at ideas like that of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and one which I and colleagues flagged up in a letter to the DailyTelegraph on creating safe havens where people can be properly assessed. We must look at “taking our fair share”, as Sir Peter Sutherland, the UN Special Representative, put it. Sweden has taken 40,000 vulnerable people and Germany has taken 30,000. Although I am not arguing that this country can take everybody or solve all the problems of the world, we must certainly play our part. As the son of an immigrant whose first language was Irish and who married a demobbed Desert Rat whose brother gave his life in a war against Nazism, I have always loathed racism and xenophobia. In cities like the one I represented in the House of Commons, Liverpool, which calls itself the whole world in one city, I am deeply aware of the extraordinary and rich contribution which many who have arrived here have made to British society. However, I am also clear that the scale of what we currently face has the capacity to undermine community cohesion and destroy good relationships between people of different racial and religious origins. This also means that there are significant security implications in failing to tackle this challenge effectively and humanely. I began by quoting from Eleanor Rathbone’s speech made in 1940. She concluded that it was, “not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself”, to tackle these problems head-on. I beg to move. 2.34 pm Lord Higgins (Con): My Lords, this debate is very much an extension of the excellent one which we had in the Moses Room on 18 June. I concluded my remarks on that occasion by saying that the matter is so important we must have an urgent debate, “on the Floor of the House at a very early date”.—[ Official Report , 18/6/15; col. GC 48.]
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I therefore wholeheartedly support the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and congratulate him on achieving this debate and on his excellent and very comprehensive speech. This country has had a good record on refugees. I pointed out in the earlier debate that I am now the sole survivor of a Cabinet committee which recommended to the Heath Government back in the 1970s that we should admit the Kenyan Asians who were refugees from Mr Amin. However, the way in which we have reacted to refugee crises has not always been the same. As I also pointed out, we behaved very badly towards refugees when World War II broke out by confiscating all their assets. Having said that, the issues we are discussing are set out very clearly in the article which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary wrote in the Times of 13 May, in which she put forward a number of proposals which I think we all very much support. However, they all require action. What concerns me is that remarkably little seems to have been done either on our part or in Europe, which is distracted perhaps by the Greek affair, or in the United Nations. It is very important that we should do something positive rather than simply debate the issues. I look forward to hearing my noble friend’s reply on that point. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary’s main theme is that we must do nothing which would encourage more refugees to take the risk involved in crossing the Mediterranean, or which would make the task of the people traffickers easier. In that context, I am somewhat concerned. Of course, it is marvellous, and no one supports more strongly than me the idea that we should maintain the basic principles of rescue at sea. However, I am concerned that we probably need to divide the issue of rescue at sea from that of entry to the European Union. I tabled a Written Question to the Government regarding the position of British naval vessels, and where they disembark the migrants who are taken on board. I think that the same would apply to the Belgian ship which I saw the other day with a huge number of refugees. I got the following reply:
“Under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the government responsible for the Search and Rescue Region in which assistance to those in distress at sea has occurred has the primary responsibility for ensuring that survivors are disembarked at the most convenient place of safety, with minimum deviation for the rescuing vessel.
The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (IMRCC) manages all rescues in the Central Mediterranean area of operations. At present, those rescued in the Central Mediterranean are brought to shore in Italy, in ports determined by the IMRCC”.
However, it is clear that that is not consistent with the position the Home Secretary takes, which is that we should do nothing to encourage people to take the risks or help the traffickers. Clearly, people are more likely to take the risks if they think that the ship is not likely to make it all the way to Italy and they will be rescued on the way. Of course, they have to be rescued, but the issue then is where they are disembarked. If it is known that they will then be disembarked at a convenient port in Italy, that achieves their objective and makes it easier for traffickers to sell the proposal
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to them that they will make it safely. So I think there is a problem here, but this also links up with the whole issue of return. My noble friend the Home Secretary also made other proposals—for example, that the European Union should work to establish safe landing sites in Africa. I note an interesting speech by Mr Vaz in the other place recently, in which he suggested alternative sites for such a thing. But I ask my noble friend: is anything at all really being done to establish such a landing area? What is the policy on returning people who turn out not to be refugees but economic migrants? The Government’s policy seems clear but it is not clear that it is being implemented, and it is therefore very important that we establish exactly what the position is. Similarly, as far as the United Nations is concerned, I am not at all clear. There was originally a proposal that action should be taken to confiscate or destroy the boats of people traffickers, but that would apparently require a UN resolution. Has anything at all been done as far as that matter is concerned? It is very important to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. The two are closely related, but the position of refugees is being jeopardised by all the problems created by economic migrants and their movement through Europe—without barriers between individual states—and the piling up of refugees at Calais. These are areas where we need to know what is being done by our own Government, the European Union and the UN. I hope my noble friend will give us a clear indication of that. 2.41 pm Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): My Lords, I pay tribute to the excellent introduction from the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I also congratulate him on his tireless and determined work supporting all those who seek justice, human rights and freedom. It has been my privilege to work with him on a number of challenging issues. How can we live with the endless stories of the misery and suffering of people who feel that they have no choice but to risk life and limb in order to leave their countries? How can we urgently and effectively address the growing migration crises, when EU member states have absolutely no solution and have failed to agree on migrant resettlement? Every day we hear stories of so many people who risk everything, travelling huge distances in appalling conditions and taking mortal risks on land and, indeed, on sea. We are seeing terrible human suffering at Europe’s borders as thousands of people struggle to reach safety, with little or no assistance. I regret that the European Union, including the UK, continues to renege on its humanitarian duties to put in place adequate and humane policies and practices. Hundreds of thousands of people faced with seemingly hopeless situations, which they feel powerless to change, are now fleeing their countries and seeking refuge and, indeed, a better life. Human Rights Watch has said, “research shows that most of those making the crossing are taking terrible risks because they have to, not because they want to”. For instance, the Syrians who are seeking to travel to Europe are not after UK welfare benefits, as some
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would suggest. They are seeking to leave a county experiencing a vicious civil war, in which their children’s schools are attacked by barrel bombs and they live every day in fear of chemical weapons. Does the Minister agree that it would be best if the Home Secretary stopped referring to the “pull factor”, which suggests that these people who head for Europe are taking unimaginable risks because they are making a lifestyle choice? Surely it is more accurate to refer to “push factors”—60% of the people seeking refuge originate from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Afghanistan. They flee their homes because they have to and because they fear extreme violence, egregious human rights abuses, desperate humanitarian conditions and, of course, the absence of hope. Our call today has to be for the UK to improve its active response to these tragedies. The Government have sadly already downgraded their contribution to the search-and-rescue mission and now seem to be focused on smuggling networks rather than saving lives. Does the Minister agree that the call for the creation of safe and legal routes should be at the forefront of the UK and EU response to the crises in the Mediterranean? Surely the people who in desperation make perilous journeys across land and sea deserve that. They are taking life-threatening risks because they have to, not because they want to. Among those compelled to take such risks are the impoverished and persecuted Rohingya, in Rakhine State in Burma, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. They are oppressed by draconian travel restrictions and the denial of education, land rights and healthcare and are widely described as the most persecuted people on earth. More than 140,000 Rohingya have been confined to squalid camps. They are the world’s largest group of stateless people and are effectively banned from citizenship because the Burmese Government have scrapped the Rohingya white identity cards, and the voting rights that go with them, in Rakhine State, where they live in a state of virtual apartheid and dire poverty. Will the UK support the view that the UN Secretary-General should now take the lead in negotiating humanitarian access to Rakhine State? There are also the gross violations of human rights, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has mentioned, which are the background to the mass exodus of desperate Eritreans, who are fleeing a totalitarian state. Some 5,000 Eritreans embark each month on their journey to escape what the UN has described as “gross human rights violations”. The truth is that the cruelty and oppression of President Isaias Afewerki and his regime is such that all rights and freedoms are being denied to those people. What is the Minister’s assessment of the claims made that, in spite of the deteriorating situation described by the UN rapporteur, the EU is now minded to engage with Eritrea on the basis that, such has been progress, engagement is now appropriate? Finally, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said:
“European countries must shoulder their fair share in responding to the refugee crisis, at home and abroad”,
“To deny that responsibility is to threaten the very building blocks of the humanitarian system Europe worked so hard to build”.
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2.47 pm Lord Maclennan of Rogart (LD): I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on initiating this debate and allowing the House to confront the deep tragedy facing the world. We cannot in this country deal with the 54 million migrants whom the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has spoken about. But we should be coming to terms with the European Union in dealing with those migrants from north Africa who are flooding into Europe. We ought to recognise that other countries in Europe are doing far more than we are to face this tragedy. Since the resolution of the European Union in April, following the death of 800 people, we have given some support to the saving of lives. We have initiated the work of the Navy—HMS “Bulwark” and, later, HMS “Enterprise”. It seems that we need to maintain this at the level which we started at, as the risks are very serious. A UN study indicates that this year 137,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean and that migrant deaths amount to almost 2,000. That is a human tragedy of gigantic proportions for which we must take responsibility. In particular, we must recognise that we need to help the Italians and the Greeks, who are making considerable financial and social efforts to deal with the problem. The Italians have indicated that the majority of the people arriving in Italy by sea are from Syria—42,323 out of 170,000. The second-largest group comes from Eritrea, at 34,329. The UN inquiry into Eritrea demonstrates that, contrary to the view of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the country’s citizens are suffering greatly from crimes against humanity. There are extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, indefinite national service and forced labour. Recently the UK Government have indicated that the Eritreans are reducing national service to 18 months but, according to the UN inquiry, there is no evidence of that at all. Forced labour is not something that we should reconcile ourselves to. We must also recognise that the neighbouring countries of Syria have been burdened almost beyond belief by the high numbers of refugees. One in four people now in Lebanon is a refugee from Syria—25% of the population. Some 2 million people in Turkey are refugees. We have offered 187 places to the Syrians. That is ludicrous and we really must do something about it. On 13 May, the EU Commission issued an interesting and constructive report which advocates an emergency relocation and resettlement system. Unfortunately, we have not responded positively to the decision reached by the EU Council on my birthday, 26 June, that EU leaders should agree to the relocation from Italy and Greece of 40,000 people in need of international protection. We have opted out of this. If we want to take a leadership role in global society, we should work with our partners in Europe to tackle these problems. 2.54 pm Baroness Cox (CB): My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend on initiating this timely debate and on his characteristically comprehensive and compelling opening speech. It is with a heavy heart that I report the findings from my recent visits to Burma and Sudan, where I met many hundreds of refugees and
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forcibly displaced people. I focus on these areas as they are largely inaccessible to international aid organisations and are off the radar screen of the international media. In Sudan, the Government continue with their aerial bombardment of civilians and ground offensives in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, the latter states known as the Two Areas. For example, in May, the South Kordofan Blue Nile Coordination Unit reported that an estimated 180 bombs, including four cluster bombs, and about 300 shells were dropped on civilian locations in the Two Areas, killing and injuring civilians, destroying livestock, and deliberately targeting crops, markets, hospitals and schools. In Sudan, there are an estimated 3.1 million internally displaced persons: 2.5 million in Darfur and more than half a million in the Two Areas. Some 3.7 million people in Sudan face crisis and stressed levels of acute food insecurity, and that number is likely to reach 4.2 million during the July to September so-called peak lean season. In Burma, I was pleased to report positive developments following a visit to Chin state in February, but a subsequent visit has sadly revealed that military offensives by the Burmese army continue to cause mass displacement and great suffering in Shan and Kachin states, despite ceasefire agreements and peace negotiations. More than half a million people have fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 600,000 have been internally displaced. Furthermore, the Government are encouraging unscrupulous mega-developments, including dam-building and mining, creating displacement of local populations without adequate consultation and sometimes with no compensation, causing further large-scale displacement. For example, according to International Rivers, in one project alone, 60,000 people have been forcibly relocated by the Ta Sang-Mongtong dam on the Salween river. Conditions in the camps for displaced people are dire and worsening. Flooding has recently caused food shortages and the destruction of shelters in the camps for the Rohingya, many of whom, as we know, have risked and lost their lives as they flee from violent attacks on their communities and unbearable conditions in the camps, as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. On the Thai-Burma border, in camps for the Shan and Kachin IDPs, problems abound with health risks such as the rise of dengue fever and severe food shortages. For example, the daily allowance for IDPs in Kachin state has been cut to the equivalent of less than 20 US cents a day. It is not possible to live on that, and the Kachin Peace Network claims that only 17% of the basic needs of IDPs are currently being met. We have visited these camps and seen the conditions. In this context, the decision of the UK Government and DfID to refrain from providing any cross-border aid to civilians trapped behind closed borders in Sudan and to reduce cross-border aid to community-based organisations working across the border in Burma, other than the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, is immensely disturbing. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that more than 50% of IDPs in Burma are in non-government controlled areas and are therefore not receiving any aid from the Burmese Government, aid channels or international NGOs. It has always been
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the policy of my own small NGO, the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust—HART—to work with local, community-based organisations which can reach people who are trapped in these situations and which do not withdraw in times of danger and insecurity. We visit them regularly and have seen again and again how these organisations are highly effective at delivering aid to their people in greatest need. We receive comprehensive reports and are continually impressed by their accountability. These CBOs provide food, medical and educational supplies, and they are trusted by the local people. I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty’s Government and DfID will reconsider their position on working with such community-based organisations. In conclusion, perhaps I may highlight three priorities that are essentially similar for both countries and ask the Minister how Her Majesty’s Government are responding or will respond to these challenges. The first is the urgent need to end the impunity with which the army and the Government in both Burma and Sudan continue to perpetrate military offensives and human rights abuses against their own civilians: in Sudan in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan; and in Burma against the Rohingya, Shan and Kachin peoples. The second priority is the need for the international community to promote political solutions which will bring genuine peace and justice for all civilians. While Her Majesty’s Government are supporting the political process with regard to forthcoming elections in Burma, many ethnic national peoples fear that this will not bring justice for them. In Sudan, too, it is immensely hard for the people suffering there to see any effects of Her Majesty’s Government’s interventions to bring the Sudanese Government to account for their continuing genocidal policies in Darfur and the Two Areas. The third priority is the need for immediate, urgent short-term interventions to relieve the suffering of these displaced civilians, especially those trapped in areas where their Governments do not allow access to humanitarian aid. I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to offer reassurance as to how the United Kingdom will contribute to the international community’s duty to protect these civilians, and provide life-saving humanitarian aid to the refugees and displaced people currently dying at the hands of their own Governments in Sudan and Burma. 3.01 pm Lord Marlesford (Con): My Lords, the House owes a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his continual fight on behalf of refugees. It is a particular privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I believe that there is no more courageous Member of your Lordships’ House. Migration is a global challenge rather than an EU problem; that must mean that it is dealt with on a global basis. The forces for migration can never be removed until we live in a very different world. Conflict, chaos and persecution are the prime causes of the present migration crisis. We must continue to work on these causes, but underlying them all is the natural desire to migrate for economic benefits. That will not change. Most of the migration from sub-Saharan Africa is economic—especially, of course, from Nigeria, the largest of those countries.
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The present crisis of the Mediterranean boat people is largely reinforced by economic migrants. It is simply impossible to process people once they have arrived in Europe in a disorganised way, having either travelled illegally or been rescued because they were at peril on the sea. Once they are in Europe it is hard to sort them out, and still more difficult—and in practice often impossible—to remove them because there is nowhere that they can be sent. There are also serious security implications. With the chaos of the present system, it is hard to believe that Islamist jihadists in dangerous numbers have not been entering Europe through the Med route. Still less will the EU Commission proposals for allocating quotas, totalling 20,000, to each EU country deal with the scale of the challenge facing Italy, Greece and Malta. In the case of the UK, we have, of course, an opt-out from such a quota system. The criticism that we in the UK have taken only a few hundred refugees from Syria misses the point. We have provided £900 million to help more than 4 million Syrian refugees in third countries. If the whole of that sum were diverted to taking refugees into Britain, it would cover perhaps only 90,000 refugees—on the basis that the cost to the public purse for the care of each refugee in the first year is a minimum of £10,000. The only solution to the immediate crisis is urgently to set up holding areas outside Europe to which people can be returned for safety, sustenance, care and assessment. However, the last thing we want to do is create more overcrowded refugee camps. That is why I suggest that, through the UN, we seek to create holding areas which could in due course become new countries where there might be hope and, eventually, prosperity and even some form of democracy. I have proposed an initial holding area, probably in north Africa and perhaps somewhere on the coast of Libya. The fact that Libya is in chaos may be a reason for selecting it. The holding area would be established under a UN mandate legitimised by the Security Council. It would have to be negotiated with the Government of Libya, who would need economic and financial inducements to agree it. I envisage it becoming eventually a new world state, which I have suggested could be named Refugia. It would require a military presence to establish, protect and guard it. This, I hope, could be provided by NATO, the only world force of sufficient capability and moral integrity. Again, that would be under the authority of a Security Council resolution. One great natural resource that such an area would have is sunshine. I have in mind the use of solar power not just for the energy that the community would need but for desalination, so as to make the desert bloom and produce food—as Libya did a couple of thousand years ago when it was a granary for the ancient world. Indeed, it included the most important of all the Greek colonies in Cyrene and Apollonia. The Israelis and the Australians are among those who have the technological expertise and experience to make this happen. It is axiomatic that the necessary human resources in the form of health and education would be provided from the start. World experience as to how best to do this would be mustered by the UN agencies. In April 2013, I visited a UN school for young Arab boys aged
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eight to 12 in Bethlehem in the West Bank. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life to see their bright eyes sparkling with hope. An example on a smaller scale, which I have also visited, were the comprehensive facilities provided in Hong Kong for the Vietnamese boat people. More than 200,000 refugees from Vietnam came to Hong Kong in the 25 years from 1975. Two-thirds were resettled round the world and a third were eventually repatriated to Vietnam. Let us remember that Hong Kong was itself established in 1841 under the auspices of the British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, in an area which he described as, “a barren island with hardly a house upon it”. In authority and power, in some ways Lord Palmerston represented the United Nations of his time. The cost of Refugia would be a world responsibility and a prime task of the UN mandate. The EU, including the UK, should be expected to make a substantial financial contribution, not least because Refugia would be a location to which illegal immigrants arriving in Europe could be taken. What I have suggested would not be easy. It is an aspiration, but from aspirations can come hope, and from hope happiness. 3.08 pm Lord Luce (CB): My Lords, in his excellent speech the noble Lord, Lord Alton, drew attention to the fact that we face the biggest migration crisis in the world since World War II. He gave us the UNHCR figures about the 60 million people who have been forcibly removed from their homes, which is almost the same as the population of this country. Another figure that brings it home even more is that over 40,000 people a day in this world are being removed forcibly from their homes. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that this country’s record in receiving and welcoming refugees has been a good one. Since 2008, I think that we have received more refugees in this country than every other European country except for Sweden. That is good and I welcome the fact that, if we look back to the time when we welcomed the east African Asians here, they have made an immense contribution to this nation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I want to look a little more at longer-term issues, although I do not quite go along with some of the views that he expressed about creating a new nation. But unless we look at and tackle the roots of the problem, we cannot really deal with the question of migration in a proper way. If ever anything brings home to us the fact that this country cannot be an island unto itself, it is this kind of issue. We are wholly interdependent and this very much demonstrates the British interest in being active in the world in dealing with and helping with conflict resolution. The immediate challenge, for us and Europe of course, brings home the fact that if there was not a European Union, there would have to be a collaboration of European states to devise a policy for approaching this problem. To my mind, the heart of the problem is that 1.5 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected
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countries, where dictatorships have created failed states, fragmentation of states, vacuums which are filled by warlords and extremists, sectarian divisions of one kind or another, poverty and despair. It is no wonder that this creates conditions for terrorism, extremism and, of course, migration, which is what we are considering today. We only have to look, as we have seen in the debate so far, to Syria and Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Sudan and South Sudan, Afghanistan, Burma and, as has been mentioned by so many, Libya. I remember, as a former governor of Gibraltar, witnessing the number of Africans who swam across the Straits of Gibraltar from north Africa to Spain and, when some of them drowned, imagining whether I myself would have taken that kind of risk had I lived in the conditions that they lived in. To my mind, it is the overall strategy that matters in the long term when it comes to tackling this problem. We have to work in a multipolar world and hence internationally and through multilateral bodies such as the European Union and NATO. We have to engage with China, which has 3,200 peacekeepers operating now. We have to engage with Russia. We have to engage much more strongly with the Commonwealth, whose heads of government will be meeting in Malta in November. I hope that they will put migration and conflict resolution at a very high level on their list of priorities. At the same time, this has to be buttressed by a regional approach to these problems. We cannot find solutions unless there is a regional approach. We have that in Syria and in South Sudan, and we have to build on it. We did it with Indian Ocean piracy, to considerable success. We dealt with Sierra Leone in the early part of the century on that basis, with considerable success. We also have to remember that most of the refugees remain in their own region. Those from Syria live in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan; 95% of Afghan refugees live in Iran and Pakistan. It is the help that we give there that matters more than anything else. I praise the efforts of DfID in giving the support it does and the new focus its aid has on job and growth creation. I end with two main points for the Minister to comment on. First, it seems to me that we have to have a strategy for stabilising the situation in north Africa in co-operation with north African leaders, especially in Libya. Secondly, we have to pursue very vigorously the idea of establishing multipurpose centres for migrants in transit, as near to the source of the problem as we can conceivably get it. In north Africa, we hear that there are somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million migrants living in Libya, which has not been stabilised since Gaddafi was overthrown. We all know there is rivalry between the internationally recognised Government in Tobruk and the rival Government in Tripoli and that there are rival militias in the northern part of Libya which are destabilising the situation with the help of Daesh. Obviously, it is absolutely essential that we give strong backing to the UN negotiating efforts to get a Government of national unity. It is a British and a European interest to see that and to do our utmost to prevent the situation spilling over from Libya into Tunisia, where we saw the absolute tragedy of the death of 30 British people. Do we and the
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European Union have a strategy to work with north African leaders for stability, particularly in Libya and in north Africa as a whole? Lastly, I come to the point about multipurpose centres for migrants. I noticed that A European Agenda on Migration, produced in May, included a proposal for working in partnership with third countries to tackle migration upstream. There were two specific proposals: first, to support countries bearing the brunt of displaced refugees through regional development and protection programmes, starting in north Africa and in the Horn of Africa and building on what we have done in the Middle East; and, secondly, to introduce a pilot multipurpose centre, to be set up in Niger—not Libya—which will provide information, local protection, resettlement opportunities and advice to migrants. I understand there will be a summit conference between the EU and the African Union in Malta to discuss all this. I would be very grateful if the Minister could say what the Government’s policy is on each of these points. 3.15 pm Lord Desai (Lab): My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who not only has given us an opportunity to debate the issue but has done excellent work over many years on this problem. My comments follow from what the noble Lords, Lord Marlesford and Lord Luce, said. I believe that this is not just an African problem but, as the subject of the debate suggests, a problem in Asia as well. It is a global problem and it is not going to go away. It is a global problem because of climate change, state collapse, dictatorships, resource scarcity—whatever. There are a lot of these people, and I do not think it makes any difference whether we call them refugees, asylum seekers or migrants. We should not engage in cheese-paring about what they are and who we will accept. This problem not only is not going to go away but will be with us over the next decade or so. It is a consequence of globalisation. We all accept that capital can move anywhere it likes—why do we not want labour to move anywhere it likes? What is this? One or two things need to be said. Europe as a whole has gone anti-immigration—it is regrettable, but it has. When new Labour was in power, it had a most generous open-door policy of accepting migrants from the newer members of the European Union. In the last election, not a single party could be found which would actually say something positive about immigration. That is the situation, and we have to have a global solution. That means that the European Union, especially the members who are also permanent members of the Security Council—the UK and France—ought to move the United Nations and everybody else to seek a global solution to the refugee problem. I will use a 19th century example. In the last 30 years of the 19th century, one-third of the population of Europe moved to America—mainly to North America but also to South America. Some of them were facing persecution, especially those from the Polish borders and so on. There is the very famous episode of Tom Mann, the trade union leader, going to the dockside in London and saying to the incoming people on the ships, “Brothers, you are welcome here, but I wish you had not come”. That is our attitude to migrants.
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I believe that the global solution could be as follows, although it is rather Utopian. There are a number of countries in the world that are empty, for example a lot of those in central Asia such as Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan et cetera. The density of population in those places is sometimes fewer than 10 people per square kilometre, whereas ours in Europe is somewhere between 200 and 300 people. It seems to me to be a very good global solution to take people who want to leave their country for whatever reasons to countries that have room for them. Why should they take them? This is where we must use our resources to give incentives to the recipient countries to accept these people, train them and make them settle there. I know that it is wildly Utopian, but it is a very difficult problem to solve. However, if we could engineer over the next 10 years a transition of people from Africa, Asia or wherever they are to the relatively empty countries of Asia—I do not think that there are many other empty countries left—that could be a solution to this problem. The people will go on coming; they will not go away. It is quite legitimate that they should have the ambition to leave their poverty-stricken country and go somewhere better. It is not true that a Libyan or a Nigerian wants to stay in Libya or Nigeria for ever. North America would not have been settled if that were the case. So let us admit that people want and are willing to go to where they can get a better life. Our response should be that if we are not going to have them, for whatever reasons, we should find them a home where we can settle them and give resources both to them and the recipient country to make life better for everyone. That is the best I can do in my six minutes. 3.21 pm The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, it is always a great tonic to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai. Alongside conflict, climate change and terrorism, and because of all these things, international migration has become one of the most acute problems of our time. At times, even in this debate, it seems insoluble. First, I acknowledge the extraordinary courage of aid workers and UN staff who work against the odds to bring water, food and sanitation to registered refugees and—this is often forgotten—to many others who are unregistered or displaced around the world. The UNHCR has been given the massive task of receiving these refugees and internally displaced persons—IDPs. I will provide just one example from Sudan, which was mentioned by my noble friend. As he said, he and I were briefed by Oxfam only this morning on the fourth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, for which we had such hopes. More than 4 million people there face severe food insecurity, largely as a result of the conflict that affects about 40% of this young country’s population. It has already made more than 1.5 million people homeless and caused another 500,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The UNHCR is frequently overwhelmed, as we saw many times in South Sudan last year—and in the north—not just by the numbers but by the UN itself becoming almost a party to the conflict, concealing victims from both sides of a racial and political divide.
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Palestine is another country where the UN mandate has made it almost impossible for UNRWA workers to remain independent. It is a paradox that aid workers the world over are trained to be neutral while inevitably they take the side of the victims. In the same spirit, we can imagine the Greek islanders, in the midst of their own economic struggles, opening their doors to thousands of Syrians—sometimes as many as their own population—as well as Eritreans, Somalis and even Afghans alongside their regular tourists and visitors. Most of these people melt away into other EU countries, somehow avoiding all Greek, Italian and FRONTEX reception centres on the mainland, making their way northwards towards healthier economies and prospects of greater security. It seems that up in the UK we have not yet grasped the urgency and scale of the problem. A large proportion of those crossing the Mediterranean, perhaps one-third, are escaping from conflict in Syria. It has lost 3.9 million people to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, leaving another 12.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance. We should make a particular effort to shelter more of these refugees in Europe—I know that we are doing a lot in Turkey and other countries—because this is a crisis of exceptional proportions. To take one example of what we can do, what is happening to the UK’s share of the UNHCR’s resettlement scheme? The Government are already receiving up to 750 refugees from different countries under the Gateway programme. More recently, they committed to providing a safe route for some hundreds of vulnerable Syrian refugees, selected because they are elderly, disabled or in some way victimised, who are given five years’ humanitarian protection status. This seems to be an admirable scheme—yet, as was mentioned, up to March only 183 had been resettled through this route. Perhaps the Minister could give us an up-to-date number and say what will happen next. The Government are often criticised for their poor response. They protest that more than 4,000 refugees have been granted asylum during the whole crisis and that large sums have been given to refugees in Turkey. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said, we do not match the generosity of other EU members such as, in this particular case, Germany and Sweden, and we hide behind the Dublin convention. This dictates that refugees belong in the countries of first asylum such as Spain, Italy and Greece. Is it time for this convention to be reviewed? The Government have done well to help rescue thousands of migrants from the ocean. Of course, the MoD is playing its part, and at its own expense. However, the Government also need to come out with new policies on migration. The only concern expressed so far is that welfare benefits must not act as a pull factor. That may be understandable: in the first debate today, we heard that the NHS may be unsustainable. Yet, to the extent that we are a healthy economy and a wealthy country, we will always be a pull factor and we also know that our economy benefits from migration. Other EU countries, whether they are in Schengen or not, need to know that we are taking our responsibilities seriously and not dumping them behind barbed wire in Calais.
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What about these safe havens? We have heard some Utopian suggestions. Does the Prime Minister still consider that we can receive refugees for processing somewhere offshore—or what exactly is he proposing? We are still very short of ideas, let alone solutions. I am glad that the EU home affairs sub-committee intends to look at migration this year. Perhaps the Government should do some more joined-up research into these problems. The Minister may remember that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, last week made a telling point about government. He said that we used to separate domestic affairs from foreign affairs but that, “there are no longer any issues in Britain that are domestic and that do not have an international dimension”.—[ Official Report , 2/7/15; col. 2260.] Of course, there was no answer to that in the debate, but this has serious repercussions for Ministers answering these debates, and it helps to explain why our national response to migration is quite blurred. My noble friend mentioned dealing with the problem at source, but how can a Foreign Office Minister be expected to deal with issues of international development, defence and immigration that belong to other departments? Do civil servants now groan under the weight of more joined-up cross-departmental meetings? These are the added pressures of foreign policy and accountability, and to help meet them I hope that Ministers will support the proposal for an international affairs committee of this House, which is long overdue. 3.28 pm Lord Taverne (LD): My Lords, in this wide-ranging debate—most eloquently introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who is a great champion of human rights—I will concentrate on a special category of young student refugees in England who are denied the chance of further education. Polls show that some 60% of the public accept that international students hugely benefit Britain. Industry needs their skills, they bring in billions to the Treasury and they enrich the quality and income of our universities. However, there is a relatively small group of young student refugees in England who face despair and injustice. They are those who came to Britain as unaccompanied child refugees, who are denied a chance to go to university even if they do well at school. When unaccompanied child refugees arrive in Britain, they are looked after by local authorities, which support their education and maintenance until they are about to become adults. When they are seventeen and a half, they are asked to reapply for asylum if they were not granted asylum when they first arrived. How can 17 year-olds, who came here without parents at a very young age, prove that they were fugitives from persecution? We rightly protect these young people when they arrive, but wrongly and unreasonably ask them to prove their right to stay years later. If they are refused asylum, they are in limbo. If they are not granted asylum but granted a lower level of protection—discretionary leave to remain—and if they are bright and win a place at university, they are, since 2011, classified as international students who have to pay huge tuition fees which they cannot possibly
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afford. They also have to pay for their own maintenance. Before the law was changed in 2011, they were treated as home students, who pay lower tuition fees and have access to loans and possibly bursaries. Indeed, some universities waive tuition fees altogether for poor home students. The change in the law in 2011 means that bright youngsters who win a place at university find that they cannot take it up and are denied the chance to join their friends. The Guardian recently highlighted one heart-breaking case, of which many can be cited. What makes the new rules even more unjust and, indeed, absurd is that in Wales the law did not change, while in Scotland a select number of these students pay no fees at all and have access to the same sort of support as their peers. I recently introduced a Private Member’s Bill to reclassify students with discretionary leave to remain as home students. It is a short Bill with a very simple objective. If passed, the cost to the Treasury will be virtually nothing because the numbers involved are hundreds per year rather than thousands. Britain will gain because university graduates will provide the skills we desperately need. Talented young people who have gone through a terrible experience on the way here will no longer be denied a fundamental right: the chance to develop their talents through education. In the ballot for Private Members’ Bills, my Bill to rectify this injustice came 43rd out of 44. It has no chance of success without government support. Will the Minister press the Government seriously to consider supporting my Bill? The case for it on the grounds of national interest as well as justice is unanswerable. The cost is nugatory. How can it be justified that only student refugees in England suffer from this injustice? Surely the Government cannot refuse to take this simple step to right this wrong. 3.33 pm Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB): My Lords, the potential number of refugees and the practical challenges of dealing with this issue are so huge and daunting that it is all the more important to be clear about the fundamental principles at stake. The principles may be very difficult to implement, but let us at least be clear what they are and remain true to them. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, so eloquently argued, the only long-term solution to this problem is to tackle it at its roots. This means the creation of stable Governments and economic prosperity in the countries from which people are fleeing. It is easy to despair about achieving this, but we must continue to do what we can, in co-operation with other Governments, to resolve issues of civil strife, as in South Sudan; to bring about Governments who respect human rights, for example in Eritrea; and, of course, to end the killings in Iraq and Syria. Secondly, there is a clear practical imperative to do all we can to hunt down the traffickers. We can do this only with the active co-operation of the Governments of the countries in which they are operating. In a country such as Libya, where government has virtually broken down, this is obviously very difficult. Huge sums of money are being made by traffickers. It is vital that we halt an operation that puts so many lives at risk. I am sure the whole House will be very anxious to
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learn from the Minister what success the Government are having in this regard and whether they are satisfied with the co-operation they are getting from the relevant Governments, including the split power structure in Libya. Thirdly, there is a clear obligation to help rescue those whose lives are immediately at risk. The importance of the long-term goal—stability in the countries from which people flee—and the intermediate one of halting the traffickers, must not be allowed to obscure what has to be done now. Yesterday, the Minister stressed that we must tackle the root cause, not just the symptoms, but they are not mutually exclusive. If you are in pain you do indeed want to find the reason for it and address its cause, but meanwhile you take pain killers. As we know, 3,500 people died crossing the Mediterranean in 2014, and the number this year could reach 2,000. When people’s lives are immediately at stake, as they are for those crammed into unseaworthy vessels, the moral imperative is to rescue them. We would ask this for ourselves if we were in that situation, and they are asking it of us. We now know that HMS “Bulwark”, which was capable of rescuing 1,000 people, has been replaced by HMS “Enterprise”, a survey ship only one-fifth the size. Furthermore, the task of HMS “Enterprise” will be to gather intelligence on migrant flows to prevent the smugglers’ vessels leaving North Africa in the first place. In addition, two Border Force cutters will continue to take part in EU search and rescue operations. Is the Minister satisfied that the search and rescue operation is large enough, given that HMS “Bulwark” alone saved some 4,000 lives? Of course, as the Government stress, we must break the link between getting a boat, and life in Europe, but this cannot be at the expense of letting people whom we could save drown. Clearly linked with the imperative to save these people—a good number of them children—from drowning is the need to treat them, once rescued, with humanity. The burden of this irregular immigration is being borne by Italy and Greece. Italy is coping with 56,000 people and Greece with 48,000. The cost to Italy is £800 million a year, but the EU is supplying only £60 million. Sharing responsibilities and burdens is fundamental to not only the whole principle of membership of the European Union but a successful policy on this issue. Does the Minister not believe there is a case for more shared support for Italy and Greece from the European Union? Fourthly, we have a clear obligation, which as a country we accept, to offer asylum to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution and whose lives are in danger in their country of origin. It is not always easy to distinguish such asylum seekers from economic migrants, who will often, in their desperation, tell whatever story they can in order to find something better than the endemic poverty and insecurity they may have known at home. Clearly, there is a difference of opinion between the Minister, given what he said yesterday, and the view of many others such as Amnesty International, who believe that the majority of those fleeing are not in fact just economic migrants but people fleeing from countries such as Syria and Eritrea where their lives are in danger. As the noble Baroness,
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Lady Kinnock, put it, there is a push factor, not just a pull factor. Even given this disagreement, there is a clear imperative to have a fair legal process in place that is able to assess the claims of those who seek asylum. Is the Minister satisfied that that is the case, and what percentage of those rescued from the Mediterranean have in fact sought and been granted asylum? The Minister is reported as saying that Britain is making the biggest contribution to the joint European asylum processing effort in the front-line states, with more than 1,000 days being contributed by British staff. That is not in fact very much, in terms of people deployed. Finally, we can do this only with others, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, stressed in relation to Europe and the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said in relation to regional and international arrangements. The European Commission communication of 13 May, A European Agenda on Migration, sets out what this means in practice. The Government are indeed working closely with EU partners on some aspects of this agenda, but are we bearing our fair share of the burden? We have so far refused to take our share of the 40,000 refugees who are being relocated across Europe. I believe we can and should take more. 3.40 pm Lord Selsdon (Con): My Lords, as so often, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising, in his delicate and charming way, an issue that is perhaps far greater than many of us could understand. I start on these issues with the advice that I was always given: before trying to determine the future, go back and have a look at the past. That is what I think I intend to do. I went to the Library, for which I have always had great respect—not only when I was on the Information Committee. You get to know the people there who have a particular interest in history, and before you know it they overwhelm you. I was overwhelmed with something like 120 sheets of A3 containing the history of the world, and I asked if I could please have a simpler brief. Now, for the first time in my life, I have an A5 brief in the form of maps. I begin with the partition of Africa in 1914. In order to determine the future you have to understand the past, and is it wrong sometimes to repeat the past. Your Lordships will know that, in 1914 at the time of the partition of Africa, many countries played an important part, and why should they not yet again be brought together? They were the French, the British, the Germans, the Italians, the Belgians, the Spanish and Portuguese. On this little chart we have a map of everything. One of the main objectives of this colonisation, or development, was food and raw materials. With it came the technology from the United Kingdom that led to the production of cotton and to getting things out of mines, and it was a pretty exciting exercise. The same was true in India, which we have forgotten. In one of my jobs I was one of the economic advisers doing a study for the Government of India on its future trade. I am afraid that I did not really know my way around India. We looked at manganese, iron ore and all sorts of things, including cotton—which seemed to have gone but now comes up again—and those
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things that you made sacks out of. Sacks, of course, have gone. India, surprisingly enough, turned itself around in a relatively short time to become a major economy in the world, not simply relying upon simple raw materials. The Indian chart shows the growth of British power in India, and shows exactly when everything happened. We then take my third chart, showing south-east Asia, which again is a major boom area. The question is what we as a nation that understands these countries can do. In order to understand and plan for the future, as I say, we must determine the past, so it is worth looking at what was produced in those territories in those golden years. I turn therefore to one of my favourite topics: Sudan. An old friend of mine, Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker, unwittingly bullied me into taking him to Sudan, only to find that I got fascinated by it. I had forgotten about the Gezira scheme, which grew the best long staple cotton in the world, which could still be redeveloped because the water and land are still there, as are the children of families who knew how it worked. I had also forgotten about the vast quantities of grain that could be produced there. We created a project called Storex Sudan. We got the Chinese involved—I was going to say that we got into bed with them—because they had suddenly decided that they wanted to do development projects in Africa. The Chinese agreed that they would build a road to the port, bring in ships and unload them. If you have ever watched Chinese unloading things, it is fascinating: they put everything on their head, walk off the ship and unload quicker than one could do it with derricks and everything else. The thought was that in Sudan all we needed was an off-take agreement for the grain—the dura—and one for the cotton, and the same families would be back again in production. In Africa we have the same scenario in countries where this is the norm. If we as a country could just put on a piece of paper, “I promise to buy and pay the bearer on demand the sum of so much per tonne”, it is amazing how very quickly orders would come about. My thoughts in this debate are that it is an economic debate. We must of course look at the north coast of Africa. Let us think again. Why is everyone leaving when they have potential for development in their own country? Why are they taking a risk at sea when very few of them can swim? Who are these pirates who kidnap people onshore with offers of whatever it is, and why can they not be arrested? After all, this is effectively almost the theft of human souls. I feel very strongly about this and would like to see the United Kingdom play a lead here. We do not want people leaving their own country; we want them encouraged to stay there. We can cure all the problems of diseases and we can train people well. Assisting in effectively exporting modern-day slavery is something that I do not wish to be associated with. 3.45 pm Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab): My Lords, I want to add my own words to others who have expressed gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this important matter to our attention.
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As usual when I intervene in debates in your Lordships’ House, it is from a rather more flesh-and-blood gritty level that I speak. I remember how many years I spent on the north coast of Haiti, for example, working with communities that I am afraid, unlike the view of the previous speaker, had no alternative resources with which to make another life. They had absolutely nothing, and the despair that I faced in hearing them argue their need to take a boat that would cross the sea to Florida was something that I shall never forget. How many families have I supported after the breadwinner has left? How many families have I seen emaciated by hunger when there was nothing they could turn to in order to alleviate that hunger? I have come to understand economic migration in terms other than the denigratory way in which it is referred to as an alternative to the seeking of asylum and therefore a less important objective. People who are hungry are hungry; people who are destitute are destitute; people who are forced to leave their families need all the attention they can get, and their cry should be heard. They should not be categorised, stereotyped, put in a neat box and written out of the equation. We have a world full of people who migrate for those reasons, and in the present emanation of this phenomenon, we have to add to that not just the breadwinner migrating but his wife and children too. This issue will not go away; we have to find a way to face it and deal with it. The dams will burst and the crowds will come, and when it happens, we who have watched it for so long must not cry wolf or say that we had not seen it or heard of it. It will come through the softer underbelly of the eastern sides of Europe as it did when the Goths, Ostrogoths, Huns and Vandals—we are all capable of looking back into history—crashed into the Roman Empire and overthrew mighty Rome itself. A very interesting, constructive thing is being done by a community with which I have contact. I am a patron of the Waldensian community living in Britain. “Patron” is the kind interpretation of the Italian word—“godfather” would be another. They have had 500 years of persecution. Jean Valdès was in Lyon until he and his followers were forced into Switzerland, across the Alps and into the northern part of Italy, and were eventually allowed to live above a certain level above sea level—and there only—in the mountains. They were only given some kind of official status in 1848, in an Italy just about to be born. These Waldensians have currently been offered money by the Italian Government to use for their own purposes—which comes from a church tax. The one body of people you could not imagine accepting a church tax would be the Waldensians, for it was the state that persecuted them over the centuries. However, they have decided to do something different with that church tax that will account for the whole of the money they get in that way. They call that project “Mediterranean Hope”; I wish I had time to spell out a few of its details. It has four different planks. The first is an observatory, as they call it, in Lampedusa, because they are very concerned that the narrative that comes out of Lampedusa is favoured by one bias or
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another, while a narrative that is people-centred, needs-centred and humanitarian needs to be posited as an alternative to the narratives that come via our news media. Therefore in the first instance they seek a good narrative. Secondly, they have set up a cultural centre on the island of Sicily where they take the women and children from those who have arrived in the way they have—those are vulnerable people, who are identified by the authorities and sent to them. There, with fun, friendship, games and food they are given a chance to integrate in the new community to which they have come and to rediscover themselves on foreign soil. An office has been set up in Rome; incidentally, this has been done by the Waldensians and Methodists, all the Protestant churches in Italy, the Roman Catholics—especially the community of Sant’Egidio—and other bodies from across Europe. In Rome they seek to help people to relocate. Only 20% of those who arrive at Lampedusa want to come to Italy, so Rome is the best place to process the stories, needs and background information and to get access to Italian Government offices, and their office there is in close contact with Sicily. Therefore the relocation desk is there. They have established humanitarian corridors in Morocco, on the other side of the Mediterranean, trying to identify people who may have a legitimate reason for going and help them to come safely to the place where they seek asylum. As I say, there are many more details. Mention has been made again and again of going back upstream, as a diplomat would put it. I remember going to Eritrea in 1993 as a representative of Christian Aid—I was on the board at the time. Christian Aid had helped the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front with material help—over the border from Sudan, as it happens, as well as from Kenya—during the time when the armed struggle against the Ethiopians was under way. I went to represent that fine body, which had done some rather shady things to get that food in. However, I found myself on the VIP invitation list. I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Kinnock here; I was between him and President Gorbachev, because that was where my name fell alphabetically. I was therefore able to oversee the plebiscite that took place in April 1993, which happened in Keren, the second city of Eritrea. A new nation came to birth after all those years of struggle; it had been the football of the international community, kicked from one place to another, before this position had been found for it. Now that same Eritrea, which fought for freedom, decency and dignity for its people, is in gross violation of its responsibilities, and 25% of people who come to Lampedusa are from there. There must be something the international community, which has messed around with Eritrea for too long, can do with that self-contained country to produce better results. The international community could be doing better things; the problems could be alleviated; practical outcomes are possible. 3.53 pm The Earl of Listowel (CB): My Lords, I join in the thanks expressed by your Lordships to my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool for securing this extremely important debate. In his opening comments he referred
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to Eleanor Rathbone, and I hope that he will forgive me a moment of family pride. My father was vice-chair, with Eleanor Rathbone MP, of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief. He is always a hard act to follow, I am afraid. Some of your Lordships will have seen the obituary on 1 July of Sir Nicholas Winton—he may have been mentioned earlier in the debate. This good man saved the lives of 669 children from Prague. Shortly before the Second World War, he had been due to go on a skiing holiday but he decided that he needed to go to Prague. He arranged eight trains to take these children to safety and he arranged for families in this country to take them in. He always deeply regretted that the last train did not leave and that 250 children were left behind. His family did not learn of this until he was in his 80s, and he died at the age of 106. I thank the previous Government for their wisdom and humanity in having chosen to enshrine in law a 0.7% commitment to international development aid. Clearly, many of those involved in the migration that we are talking about are economic migrants but, equally, many of them are in flight from the developing world. It is obviously right to seek to support fragile nations so that they do not fall into conflict and so that we avoid the sorts of troubles that we face today, so I salute the Government for making that commitment. I hope that if any young people read this speech, they will also feel pride in their nation for taking a world leadership role by supporting mothers with midwives, by supporting the education of girls and by protecting children from malaria in the developing world. I hope they will feel proud that this nation is leading the world in this area. I should like to make one request to the Minister following what many of your Lordships have said. Will he think very seriously about committing to provide space for 1,500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in this country? I shall come back to that towards the end of my remarks. I should like to make one other observation. My father lived through two world wars. In the Second World War, my mother—whom I was speaking to at the weekend—returned to Croydon at the age of four or five. She had been evacuated but returned during the main part of the Blitz. A factory near the bottom of her garden was bombed and of course that was quite a horrific experience for her. It is quite remarkable that we have had peace in Europe since that time. My understanding is that to a large degree that is due to the solidarity of the European Union. Members of the EU are committed to each other and have built strong trade partnerships, and that has helped to give us this long period of peace. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that it is in our strong self-interest as a nation to be an active and committed member of the European Union and to show solidarity with our allies in Europe: we are stronger together than we are disunited. One might say that Adolf Hitler did not die. There is always a new Hitler, and we are always stronger when we stand together against such people.
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I want to speak a little about my experience. I visited Angola with UNICEF during the civil war and saw the terrible suffering of the people there. I visited a feeding station and saw the undernourished children being fed. I visited an internally displaced people’s camp, which had been terribly neglected by the Government, and saw a young child with an open wound, which was a distressing situation to observe. Young people were being forced to act as child soldiers. We need to avoid civil conflict, which leads to these migration flows. I was a mature student and attended a further education college. One of my fellow students was a young man from Eritrea called Izak. He arrived here at a young age with his sister. He went on from the FE college to University College, London, and qualified as a civil engineer. It was difficult for him to live without his parents but he loved to play football, to dance and to work hard, and he was extremely successful. I valued my friendship with him. When I heard from my noble friend about the experience of many Eritreans and that some were being executed, I felt deeply saddened. These are not just statistics; they are real people. I see that my time is up, so I shall simply repeat my request that we show solidarity with Italy and Greece, and seek to take at least 1,500 children and give them succour in this nation. 3.59 pm Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the need for solidarity with the people of Greece. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, as others have, for having given us the opportunity for this important debate. But the awful truth is that the scale of the problem with which we are dealing will be dwarfed by what lies ahead. The consequences of climate change, the movement of peoples, and unresolved conflicts and tensions are not going to abate, and we are going to see an acceleration in the issues that face us. But there is one other issue that we have to face, particularly in this House. If we are intent on a world based on the market and the free movement of capital and goods, how on earth will we stem the inevitable movement of people that flows from that? People will go to where the centres of economic activity are strongest. This is inevitable, and we are just burying our head in the sand if we pretend otherwise. That brings home to us that we have a global responsibility that is second to none in helping to build and strengthen the economies of the people of the world as a whole, and in ensuring that we are not consuming the wealth and raw resources of the world in a completely selfish way that accentuates the awful reality of life for the majority of people in the world. We must, as has been mentioned in the debate, show a sense of respect for what others are doing. I like to raise my glass at meals to the people of Italy. They have demonstrated that they are the soul of Europe at its best. That gives us something to ponder here in the United Kingdom. We also have to remember the fortitude and generosity of the people of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, who, with their own comparative economic disadvantage, are opening their arms to
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welcome those fleeing conflict in Syria and elsewhere. Of course, they have been doing this—but for how long will they do this? There are already indications, certainly in Lebanon and Jordan, that people are beginning to say, “Look at our own plight. How can we go on carrying this burden?”. And that spells still more trouble ahead. I very much welcome and was cheered by—not, I may say, for the first time in my life—the thoughts of my noble friend Lady Kinnock. For me, she brought alive the terrible human reality of what we are talking about. We get awfully insulated in this Chamber. Here we are in this fine, beautiful building talking about these problems, but as we talk, people are drowning; as we talk, people are gasping for breath; as we talk, people are uttering their last breath, dying of starvation and in pain; as we talk, the torture and brutality that force people to move and leave is taking place. We need to keep in our mind that vivid picture of what the reality is, because in this Chamber we can become very abstract in our discussions. We should also in this context put on record our appreciation of those who work so hard and consistently on our behalf in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNRWA, UNICEF, the Red Cross and all the other international institutions. We should take very seriously the thoughts and experience of our own voluntary agencies, which represent so often, together with their supporters and followers, the Britain to which I am sure many of us want to belong—the Britain with real heart and concern, the Britain that feels it belongs in the world, the Britain that recognises that it cannot escape from the world and the Britain which is therefore determined not just to talk about the problems with which we are confronted but to commit itself to finding the common solutions which are necessary if we are to begin to challenge such situations. I have one absolute conviction which I think has become an obsession; we are utterly interdependent with the world and our leadership, of whatever political persuasion—I hope that those who are offering themselves for leadership in my own party are taking this seriously—will in future be judged by how they enabled this country to join the world, to belong to the world and to play its part together with others in finding the solutions that are necessary for humanity, because, believe you me, there is no way in which in the long term the well-being of the British people can be secured without fulfilling that partnership in international community. 4.06 pm Baroness Hamwee (LD): My Lords, I often feel that I would like to leave the last word with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, but I will start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton. The footage of people struggling out of the sea appals us, but, if you see it when you are in Eritrea, it looks like success at reaching Europe. s noble Lords have said, this is a multifaceted issue, and multimillions of people are caught up in different situations, each one of whom is an individual. I fear that casting the debate only in terms of numbers, as some do—although not today—tends to validate xenophobia. I recognise the amount of money that the
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UK has given—to which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred—in response to the current situation. However, that has meant that people are sent to the camps which are supported, which in themselves are both dangerous for the individuals—this House has set up a committee to look at sexual violence in conflict, and part of that conflict is the experience in those camps—and, in the case of the Middle East, dangerous for the stability of the host countries and the region as a whole. Reference has been made to the Minister’s remarks yesterday about this being an issue primarily of economic migration. I share the views expressed in the responses of the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and we know that a number of agencies have challenged those remarks with their figures. In my view, the demarcation line between economic migrancy and being a refugee is really not that clear—I will try to remember to keep the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, to refer to for the future. People in that situation must face huge desperation and often display huge bravery. Of course, what they want are safe, legal routes, because without them, lives are put further at risk. Who among their families left behind knows the outcome? My noble friend Lady Manzoor asked me yesterday whether there is a central DNA database of those who are drowned and whose bodies are recovered, so that there might at some point be the possibility of their families discovering their fate. Stories of reliance on smugglers—criminals—and the abuse and exploitation suffered at stage after stage of the journey are legion. I read the title of this debate as extending to the plight—to use the term chosen by the noble Lord—of those who do reach the UK. In this country, they are faced perhaps with indefinite immigration detention, which in itself is harmful. It is a little part of what the noble Lord called the big picture. There are very rigid rules about family reunion. A father might reach this country and perhaps be able to bring over his dependent children and partner. However, an 18 year-old child might have to be left behind and become reliant on smugglers. Sibling relationships do not count. British citizens find it almost impossible to bring to the UK family members who are in danger. We are familiar with the sometimes very long waits for decisions about asylum status. We know how keen many asylum seekers are to work and the importance of work for both their own self-respect and their integration. Migrant Voice recently published a list of “Alice in Blunderland” policies and experiences. It gave as one example:
“Because of the experiences that led asylum-seekers to flee, they can be afraid of officials”—
and then they come here and are faced with security staff of whom they are afraid. Another example is that:
“LGBT asylum-seekers may be asked to provide sexually explicit photographs or videos … to ‘prove’ their homosexuality”.
Noble Lords will be able to cite comparable examples of such policies. A couple of weeks ago I met a doctor from Syria. I do not want to say much about it because of the danger to his family. However, people arriving here bring skills that we should be using. That fits in very
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much with the comments of my noble friend Lord Taverne. There is great concern, which I share, about asylum support rates, both as they are now and as they may be if the regulations which had to be withdrawn at the end of the last Parliament are reintroduced. I have been sent some articles written by journalism students who have interviewed refugees and I thought that I would share a few extracts with your Lordships. The first extract is as follows:
“When I arrived in Kent I didn’t speak English. [I was given] a piece of paper with writing in so many different languages. I found my language on there and pointed to it, and that’s how they knew that I was from Afghanistan … I was amazed when I saw so many languages. It made me realise there were other people like me. And I thought that this must be such a good country, if it is helping all these different people”.
Another interviewee talked about:
“Trauma, the vulnerability that comes from being [a child] separated from their parents, and the expectation of making money to send back home”.
That has, “an impact on a child’s ability to focus, concentrate and think about their long-term plans for the future”. In stressful cases, said one worker, “children wonder what the point of committing to an education is in a country that they don’t know if they’ll be able to stay in”. One young man said:
“I am lost. I have nowhere to go. I can’t go forward, and I can’t go back I am worse than an animal in a cage”.
When depression overtakes him he self-harms using a knife. He has carved the initials AFG into his arm as if to remind himself of a self-identity that is otherwise rapidly disappearing. As I have mentioned Afghanistan, I should also mention the local staff in Afghanistan—the interpreters and other people—who worked with our forces. They are regarded by the Taliban as traitors. By November last year, however, only 31 had been given leave to enter this country, not necessarily to work or stay. Treachery? Is that betrayal by the UK? The extracts go on to say that, “this is not just an issue of government policy. It’s also about the messages propagated by the media”. One of the students wrote about the Leveson report on press standards, which covered the media’s influence over community relations: “the report found that, in the tabloids particularly, ‘there are enough examples of careless or reckless reporting to conclude that discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to … immigrants and asylum seekers is a feature of journalistic practice … rather than an aberration’”. Another interviewee said that government officials were looking for him in Syria. He cannot communicate directly with his family. He said:
“London is like a desert to me. I don’t speak the language. I don’t have any contacts. I am alone. Like in a desert, but filled with people around me”.
The writer of the article said that she would not know how refugees express gratitude and asked the interviewee if he would answer the question: should we expect Syrian asylum seekers to be grateful? He said:
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“I am lost here, my life is in Syria. I was forced to leave. But Britain has been like a caring mother to me, and has given me everything. Britain has given me rights again. Britain is educating me. I am grateful”.
Last night, in response to a request for some comments about his experience here, another young Syrian wrote to me about the difficulties—it was not anything that I had expected. He explained his experiences with great understatement. His family decided to leave because, “the situation was very horrible and a lot of bombs fall”. He said that, “the most difficult thing is the feeling when you must leave your country and you cannot return to it”. I think his English is brilliant. He said:
“The most difficult thing here is the miss for the country, the family, and the friends, and really it is very hard when you hear that one of your best friends is dead and this happened with me more than ten times. I want to say thanks for the British people and for British government to receive us and to give us the support to survive and complete our life but in same time you should to know that about one million of the Syrian has same my situation and they need your support and help. The first rule in my life is you can achieve your dream when you trust with yourself”.
We pride ourselves on our history of welcoming those who seek refuge here, and those expressions of gratitude really make you think. As my noble friend Lord Maclennan said, we should be taking a leadership role in a global society because we live in a globally connected world. 4.17 pm Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate and for reminding us that more people are displaced from their homes than at any time since the Second World War. As we have heard, today there are almost 60 million displaced people in the world. The war in Syria alone has produced 4 million refugees, making it one of the biggest refugee crises on record. Millions more are displaced inside the country. It is right that we have a debate on immigration and the state of affairs within our own borders. But we also need to promote a broader discussion that examines the causes and the responses by the world community to mass migration. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, we must begin to establish the values that should guide our response to a refugee crisis fuelled by climate change, political unrest and conflict. We must also acknowledge that, in some situations, these two debates are linked and that previous interventions undertaken in our name have undeniably fed the current turmoil. The world’s focus must be on finding political solutions to the cycles of violence that drive civilians from their homes, and on breaking the culture of impunity that has come to characterise brutal conflicts such as those in Syria and South Sudan. Each new tragic incident—the seizure of Yarmouk, the shipwreck off Lampedusa and the desperate plight of the Rohingya—is more horrific than the last, and must spur political action. Strict quotas, such as those set out in the European Commission’s proposed agenda on migration will not work, but the lack of solidarity shown by this Government is immoral, in my opinion. In such situations, ours
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should be a generous response, not a constrained one. As the noble Lord, Lord Luce, highlighted, 86% of refugees reside in developing countries. Conflicts and crises occur most frequently in poorer countries. They occur and people are compelled to cross the nearest border. Refugees often have social, economic and cultural bonds with neighbouring communities and they may prefer to remain close to home. The UK, as we have heard, is one of the top donors to Syria and the region. It goes without saying that it is vital to support refugees where they are. Governments, donors and NGOs must take a long-term view, as many refugees will be resident for years and even decades. That also means making sure that support is given to host communities, which are often just as poor and under immense strain, as well as to the refugees. That was highlighted by my noble friend Lord Judd. By resettling more refugees, we not only offer a lifeline to some of the most vulnerable people but it will give us a greater moral authority when we call on countries such as Lebanon and Jordan to keep their borders open and uphold the rights of refugees. The Government’s decision to halt the paring back of search and rescue operations by the use of HMS “Bulwark” was welcome, but does its replacement by HMS “Enterprise” signal a reduced commitment by the UK in the Mediterranean? Can the Minister explain how the Government expect HMS “Enterprise” to undertake its dual operational functions of refugee rescue and the apprehension of smugglers? I fear that the response of Mr Brokenshire, the Minister, to your Lordships’ sub-committee, which was reported in the media yesterday, will only confirm to the rest of the world the UK’s continued reluctance to engage. With regard to the Syrian conflict, the Prime Minister has announced a modest expansion of the UK’s resettlement programme, particularly for vulnerable Syrian refugees in the region. Can the Minister provide more detail on how many more places will be available? Of the numbers accepted from Syria, can the Minister also tell the House how many were already in the UK, including students? My party’s view is that Britain should rejoin the United Nations official refugee programme for the most vulnerable refugees, understanding that many of these migrants will not even make it to a boat or get here on a plane; they will die in a camp without our help. There are close to 3 million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of violence and fighting in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and elsewhere. In the last few weeks, political tensions in Burundi have pushed tens of thousands into neighbouring countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which itself has close to 3 million internally displaced people. The conflict in Yemen has been so destructive that thousands of Somali refugees and other nationalities who had escaped there are now seeking safety in Somalia, even though that country continues to experience violence. No country or region is immune, from Libya and the shores of the Mediterranean, through to the Gulf of Aden, and across the sea, where the Rohingya and Bengali families were stranded on boats for months with scarce food and water. The Prime Minister has
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emphasised that those people fleeing to Europe across the Mediterranean were being driven—pushed—to attempt these journeys, highlighting failed states and people smugglers as the drivers. However, what he failed to mention, which we have heard in this debate, is the persistent and widespread human rights abuses directed at their people by brutal regimes such as Eritrea, and the unsustainable demands being made on countries such as Jordan and Lebanon in trying to accommodate refugee populations. UK Ministers, as highlighted by James Brokenshire’s remarks, suggest that resolving the Mediterranean crisis is dependent on breaking a mythical link between boarding a boat and settling in Europe. However, as we have heard, the great majority of those attempting the Mediterranean crossing set off from Libya, a country experiencing a vicious internal conflict. Refugees and migrants have suffered appalling abuses. The contention that these immigrants are “economic migrants”, rather than desperate victims of human catastrophe, is inaccurate and alarming. If we are to have an honest debate, we need strongly to challenge this contention. António Guterres, the UN refugee chief, stressed that most of those attempting the journey are not economic migrants: a third came from Syria, while people fleeing violence in Afghanistan and Eritrea’s repressive regime each made up 12%. Other countries of origin include Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq and Sudan. The British people, who are understandably concerned about levels of migration, are more anxious about human decency when confronted with the facts. My right honourable friend Yvette Cooper said that we should decouple asylum from migration targets. It skews the debate and frames an issue of decency in the context of political expediency. Refugees should be removed from the net migration target. Our aim should be an integrated development, defence, foreign and home policy that recognises that the global challenges we face are interconnected. It is therefore a matter of concern that the Department for International Development has been excluded from a number of cross-Whitehall committees, including the National Security Council and the immigration task force. That represents further isolation and fading influence. We were once a nation that was proud to offer a place of sanctuary for people fleeing horrific rights abuses worldwide, but the Government’s deliberate retreat from the world stage has put our reputation at risk. The UK must stand up for the world’s least wanted people, but we must do so in a manner based on sound principles and which requires consensus. It is a debate whose urgency cannot be underestimated. 4.27 pm The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing the debate. I commend him on his long-standing engagement on international development and foreign policy issues. I also congratulate all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, which had a particularly impressive speakers list. I shall try to answer all the questions that have been posed. If I fail to, because I am very pressed for time, I shall write to noble Lords and put copies in the Library.
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As other noble Lords have said, we have all been shocked by the plight of migrants dying on an unprecedented scale on boats in the Mediterranean and in the Andaman Sea. People are fleeing war, violence and deep-rooted poverty. The collapse of authority in Libya has meant a huge increase in numbers coming through the central Mediterranean. Addressing these issues requires a complex and far-sighted response. At a special meeting of the European Council in April, it was agreed that we had to act to address the humanitarian tragedy unfolding before us. At that point, the UK contributed HMS “Bulwark”—to which tribute was paid by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other noble Lords—to support the Italian rescue effort. She has rescued more than 4,700 people from sinking boats that have set off from Libya. We have also provided two Border Force cutters to support the search and rescue operations, and to date they have rescued some further 450 people. In total, UK vessels have rescued more than 5,000 people from drowning. But we also agreed that we could not resolve this crisis without a long-term comprehensive approach. This is where we need to work together across Europe to tackle the drivers of this migration. The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and many other noble Lords expressed their concern about HMS “Bulwark” returning home and being replaced by HMS “Enterprise”. We have always been clear that to tackle the migrant crisis we need a comprehensive plan in going after the criminal gangs, smugglers and the owners of the boats, potentially taking action there as well, and stabilising the countries from which these people are coming. So it is right that we now move to the next stage under the CSDP’s mission. As a multirole survey ship, HMS “Enterprise”, as mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is well placed to assist in this phase of the operation, particularly given its additional intelligence-gathering capability. We can do this now because other European partners are stepping in with contributions to the CSDP operation. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, suggested that our United Kingdom contribution was decreasing. This is not the case. As well as HMS “Enterprise”, there is another helicopter attached to this operation and two Border Force cutters—HMC “Protector” and HMC “Seeker”—are aiding FRONTEX’s Operation Triton. In addition, we have contributed a further five defence personnel to the multinational operational headquarters in Rome, which is crucial to establishing the CSDP mission. The urge to migrate and to seek a better life is a natural human instinct. It is part of a broader process of global change and development and a route out of poverty for millions. However, we must seek to manage irregular migration in a rational way, addressing its root causes as well as its short-term impact. Some people will be fleeing war and persecution, others are economic migrants seeking a better life. We need to make a distinction between these to ensure we address the root causes of this migration.
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In the short term, we are providing humanitarian support to refugees and displaced people across the world. The Government have just provided a new humanitarian package of support, with an additional £100 million pledge to Syria, taking our public commitment to £900 million to date. This is our largest-ever response to a humanitarian crisis and makes the UK the world’s second-largest bilateral donor to the Syria crisis. It is providing food, clean water, medical care and other essential aid that is helping hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and its neighbouring countries and is having a big impact on reducing people’s need to flee the region. The Government have also just announced an additional £217 million to Africa to provide support to more than 2 million refugees who are displaced across the region. There is also a new £110 million programme for work in the Horn of Africa, with a focus on refugees in Ethiopia and Sudan. The UK is now the second-largest bilateral donor in the Horn of Africa in providing humanitarian support for displaced populations. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, on the other side of the world, Rohingya refugees have fled their homes in north-west Burma. The United Kingdom is one of the largest donors in Burma, providing £18 million in humanitarian assistance since 2012 to Rakhine State, from where many of the Burmese Rohingya found on boats in the Andaman Sea originate. We are also tackling the networks that lie behind people-smuggling. This form of illegal migration funds organised crime and undermines fair immigration controls by allowing economic migrants uncontrolled access to our countries. This emphasises the importance of our supporting the creation of a credible national Government in Libya who can work with us to secure its coastline. We must also develop a much richer picture of how these networks are exploiting people, so that we can disrupt them. The Government are establishing a dedicated law enforcement team to tackle the threat posed by illegal immigration from north Africa, in light of the surge in numbers crossing the Mediterranean. This will bring together officers from the National Crime Agency, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service, with the task of relentlessly pursuing and disrupting organised crime groups profiting from the people-smuggling trade. We will work with our international partners to identify organised crime groups smuggling migrants to the Libyan coast; illuminate the routes and methods the smugglers use; and understand the money flows. These insights will be shared with our partners to disrupt those orchestrating the smuggling. At the same time, we must be clear that we will meet our obligations to provide refuge for the most vulnerable. The United Kingdom already participates in the United Nations programme to resettle refugees who have fled from their home countries, including those affected by conflict or civil war. We also set up our own scheme for particularly vulnerable people fleeing the conflict in Syria, including women and children at risk who could not be protected in the region. However, these are only short-term measures. These scenes demonstrate how working with developing countries not only matters to them but, more than ever before, matters to us too.
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We must work together to tackle this issue upstream at source, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port. In the long term, development assistance addresses the root causes of instability and insecurity, reducing inequality and providing economic opportunities for all. This helps to build more effective states and societies, reducing some of the pressures to migrate. Finding the means to support stability, prosperity and opportunity means a more stable and prosperous world for us all. The United Kingdom is already refocusing its own efforts. Despite the difficult economic times, Britain has kept its commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid. The United Kingdom will spend over £4 billion on bilateral and multilateral development assistance in Africa this financial year. Of this, £725 million will go bilaterally on development programmes to key source and transit countries for irregular migrants in the Horn of Africa and east Africa. We will also spend £280 million bilaterally on governance and security, building state capacity to achieve stability, peace and respect for human rights; and £540 million will be spent bilaterally on economic development, including a strong focus on jobs and urban youth populations, particularly relevant in areas of the Horn of Africa. We are supporting the cross-government effort, including the £1 billion Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which seeks to deliver longer-term peaceful political settlements—ultimately the best tool for reducing flows of irregular migration into the European Union from countries in the Middle East and north African region. At the Department for International Development we have already refocused our priorities to be more on jobs and livelihoods than ever before. Through United Kingdom aid we are investing a total of £1.8 billion globally on economic development this financial year, more than doubling the direct amount spent in 2012-13. This refocusing of our programme will take time to have an impact on the current migration trends. A number of noble Lords have mentioned the recent debate in the Moses Room, which my noble friend Lord Bates responded to on behalf of the Government. He has been pleased to write to all Ministers in this House from the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office—that is himself, of course—the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so that all the Ministers in the Lords will be able to discuss these matters among themselves, and I will be taking part in these discussions as well. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Collins, went further on the problems facing the Rohingya people. The United Kingdom has taken action at ministerial level by raising the issue with the Burmese ambassador in London. We are issuing a joint demarche, with the US and the EU, to Ministers in Burma, and we are lobbying ASEAN member states Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia not to turn away boats in distress. On 29 May, we participated in the Thai international co-ordination meeting as an observer. We call on all parties in Burma to address the dire situation of the Rohingya community in Rakhine state. We want to see improved humanitarian access, greater security and accountability, and a sustainable solution on citizenship.
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The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friends Lord Marlesford and Lord Higgins all mentioned the issue of safe havens. The scale of the present situation requires ambitious thinking. We must contemplate difficult decisions to help break the link between getting on a boat in north Africa and being allowed to enter and remain in Europe. Our colleagues in Spain have valuable experience in doing exactly this when migrants arrived in their thousands in the Canary Islands. We can learn important lessons from them, but we will be urging the EU to look to create safe zones in transit countries where illegal migrants could remain, or to which those who end up in Europe and who do not require asylum could be returned when it becomes difficult to send them home directly. For this reason, the United Kingdom is very interested in the proposal by the European Commission for a multipurpose centre in Niger. We have joined the informal working group to develop this and will be pressing for the level of ambition to reflect the need to fundamentally change the current patterns of illegal migration to the European Union. My noble friend Lord Higgins mentioned the situation in Calais. We recognise that we need to do more with our French counterparts to tackle the issue. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, set out a number of commitments in a joint declaration published last September to tackle the problems at the port. The declaration included £12 million from the UK Government towards upgrading the security infrastructure at Calais and other juxtaposed ports. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, also mentioned asylum. The majority of illegal immigrants to Italy come from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal where the drivers for emigration tend to be more economic rather than fear of persecution. My noble friend Lord Higgins asked what the European Union is doing. The EU needs to do more to ensure that it is taking a lead role in responding to this crisis. As the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, working closely with the African Union is vital, and I welcome the proposed summit that is to take place in Valletta in the autumn. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, mentioned the human rights situation in Eritrea. The UK will continue to press Eritrea to improve its human rights record through a range of channels, including through our engagement with multilateral partners on their programmes. The root causes of migration from Eritrea are complex. They are driven by a mix of economic, social, political and other factors, but the opportunity for economic development is clearly a contributing factor that is clearly influencing people’s decisions to migrate. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked about resettlement. We have been clear that the United Kingdom will not sign up to a compulsory European Union quota system which risks undermining control of our own borders and the UK asylum system. However, I am proud of this country’s record for resettling refugees. In the past five years we have resettled more than 5,000 people, second only to Sweden in the European Union.
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The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned humanitarian aid in Sudan. The United Kingdom is a leading humanitarian donor in Sudan, with my department involved in a programme of £47 million in 2015-16. The majority of this is focused on the provision of humanitarian assistance. The noble Baroness also mentioned cross-border support in Sudan. While we are deeply concerned at renewed military activity in the two areas, we continue to judge the risks of providing cross-border support to be too high, due to the limited number of implementing partners and our inability to assess or monitor programmes. However, we continue to review this policy. My noble friend Lord Marlesford mentioned the £900 million response in Syria. The response to the conflict in Syria is the United Kingdom’s largest ever to a humanitarian crisis. As my noble friend said, the UK is the second largest donor to the Syrian crisis. This response also supports Lebanon, Jordan, which was mentioned by other noble Lords, and Turkey to deal with the influx of refugees and the pressures this creates. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, asked what we are doing in the regional development and protection programmes. These are EU-led initiatives to increase efforts to deal with what is called the stickiness of refugees in transit countries. This has two goals: to strengthen EU member states’ co-ordination and coherence and to develop activities to strengthen migration management in the region, and benefit refugees and migrants. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, also mentioned the Syrian relocation scheme. I understand that 187 people have been helped under this scheme. On Friday 19 June, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that we would modestly expand the scheme by offering a few hundred more places by working with the UNHCR. I will now have to finish my notes. It is only through taking an approach that both addresses the immediate symptoms, through our search and rescue on the Mediterranean and our humanitarian programmes across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and the root causes, through our long-term economic development and governance programmes, that we can truly have an impact. Through shared prosperity and ambition, we need to work to create a world in which people do not feel forced to leave their home countries. 4.47 pm Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, without exception we have heard a series of hugely knowledgeable speeches, tackling a range of complex themes. I was particularly struck by the references made to imaginative ideas, which the Minister just described as ambitious thinking. In the 18th century that led, for instance, to the creation by Britain of a new city, Freetown, in Sierra Leone and in the 19th century to the creation of a new country, Liberia, to help those who were trapped in slavery at that time. Let me end by referring to the awesome courage, dignity and determination to survive of so many refugees and migrants. Just yesterday, I heard from a young
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North Korean who had been tortured, imprisoned and forced to scavenge on the streets. He escaped from a country where 200,000 are in concentration camps. After being given asylum in the UK and having had two years in a UK university, yesterday Timothy received British citizenship. His greatest desire is to use that freedom and education to return to his own country and help to rebuild it. That is the greatest longing of most refugees and I hope that today’s important debate will give encouragement to those such as Timothy who read it. I reiterate my thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part. Motion agreed. ———————————————————————————————————————————————————– http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201516/ldhansrd/text/150709-0002.htm#15070961000823 Also see – July 9th 2015 report -Syrian Christians Saved Amid Refugee Crisis http://news.sky.com/story/1515863/syrian-christians-saved-amid-refugee-crisis More than 200 Syrian Christian are selected for resettlement in Belgium, amid warnings that many more refugees are fleeing to “dire conditions”.
And a response from Timothy…. It is my gratitude to read your speech in the House of Lords today particularly with the major refugee issues around world now. This is such inspiration when I think about these issues and questions from the news – especially having experienced life in this way. I am increasingly concerned in terms of human lives. Whenever I watch the news or hear about these refugees or asylum stories, and hear questions like ‘how many people have died while crossing the Mediterranean’ or, examples of treaties, regulations, norms and principles in the international communities, such as UN, EU, World Bank, IMF, etc, yet I wonder why they are having such weak implementation. All these issues, particularly with increasing number of refugees/asylum seekers across the world, not just UK, but the world, means we must rise up and face up to the need to find solutions to the situation today. I think if we continue to ignore the major issues of refugees and asylum seekers, and failed to change the political climate, we could possibly bring another world disaster, even more disastrous than what we had in the past century. I believe this is my own commitment to the future… While there was passion in your speech yet, also encouragement and I found that you referred to my great news to having British citizenship. It is hard to avoid with my joyful news while others loose their lives in seeking better countries and a better life. I will not be waste this privileged opportunity and will continue to fight against those who want to destroy our beloved freedom and liberty.
Full transcript: House of July 16 Lords Debate on Article 18: Stop Killing Christians – including speeches by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, and other senior Peers from many faith and humanist backgrounds
Motion to Take Note
Watch the debate at:
To move that this House takes note of worldwide violations of Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the case for greater priority to be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who take part in today’s debate. We have a speakers list of great distinction, underlining the importance of this subject. It is also a debate that will see the valedictory speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who has given such distinguished service to your Lordships’ House. The backdrop to all our speeches is Article 18, one of the 30 articles of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. It insists:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.
“a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.
chairman of the drafting committee, argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. In her words:
Article 18 emerged from the infamies of the 20th century—from the Armenian genocide to the defining depredations of Stalin’s gulags and Hitler’s concentration camps; from the pestilential nature of persecution, demonisation, scapegoating and hateful prejudice; and, notwithstanding violence associated with religion, it emerged from ideology, nation and race. It was the bloodiest century in human history with the loss of 100 million lives.
The four great murderers of the 20th century—Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot—were united by their hatred of religious faith. Seventy years later, all over the world, from North Korea to Syria, Article 18 is honoured daily in its breach, evident in new concentration camps, abductions, rape, imprisonment, persecution, public flogging, mass murder, beheadings and the mass displacement of millions of people. Not surprisingly, the All-Party Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, in the title of its influential report, described Article 18 as “an orphaned right”. A Pew Research Center study begun a decade ago found that of the 185 nations studied, religious repression was recorded in 151 of them.
Today’s debate, then, is a moment to encourage Governments to reclaim their patrimony of Article 18; to argue that it be given greater political and diplomatic priority; to insist on the importance of religious literacy as a competence; to discuss the crossover between freedom of religion and belief and a nation’s prosperity and stability; and to reflect on the suffering of those denied this foundational freedom.
Although Christians are persecuted in every country where there are violations of Article 18—from Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, North Korea and many other countries—Muslims, and others, suffer too, especially in the religious wars raging between Sunnis and Shias, so reminiscent of 17th-century Europe. But it does not end there. In a village in Burma, I saw first-hand a mosque that had been set on fire the night before. Muslim villagers had been driven from a village where for generations they had lived alongside their Buddhist neighbours. Now Burma proposes to restrict interfaith marriage and religious conversions. It is, however, a region in which Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the Foreign and Commonwealth are doing some excellent work with lawyers and other civil society actors, promoting Article 18.
Think, too, of those who have no religious belief, such as Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian atheist and blogger sentenced to 1,000 public lashes for publicly expressing his atheism. That has been condemned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as,
“a form of cruel and inhuman punishment”.
Later, we will hear from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently said that the “most common feature” of Anglicanism worldwide is that of being persecuted. Twenty-four of the 37 Anglican provinces are in conflict or post-conflict areas. Referring to the 150 Kenyan Christians who were killed on Maundy Thursday, the most reverend Primate said:
“people of all faiths working together for the freedom of all faiths”.
My noble friend’s brilliant critique, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, is required reading for anyone trying to comprehend what motivates people to kill Christian students in Kenya, Shia Muslims praying in a mosque in Kuwait, Pakistani Anglicans celebrating the Eucharist in Peshawar or British tourists simply holidaying in Tunisia and for anyone trying to understand the dramatic rise in Christian persecution, the vilification of Islam in some parts of the world and, in Europe, the troubling reawakening of anti-Semitism.
My noble friend’s insights into the shared stories of the Abrahamic faiths—not least the displacement stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, and Joseph and his brothers—and how they can be used to promote mutual respect, coexistence, reconciliation and the healing of history underline the urgent need for scholars from those faiths to combat the evil being committed in God’s name and to give emphasis to the ancient texts in a way which upholds the dignity of difference—the title of another of my noble friend’s books. If Jews, Muslims and Christians are no longer to see one another as an existential threat, we urgently need a persuasive new narrative, which is capable of forestalling the unceasing incitements to hatred which pour forth from the internet and which capture unformed minds.
It is not just scholars but the media and policymakers who need greater religious literacy and different priorities. How right the BBC’s courageous chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, is when she says:
It is increasingly obvious that liberal democracy simply does not understand the power of the forces that oppose it or how best to counter them. At best, the upholding of Article 18 seems to have Cinderella status. During the Queen’s Speech debate, I cited a reply to Tim Farron MP—for whom this has been quite a notable day—in which Ministers said that the Foreign Office,
“has one full time Desk Officer wholly dedicated to Freedom of Religion or Belief”.
“the Head and the Deputy Head of HRDD spend approximately 5% and 20% respectively of their time on FoRB issues”.
To rectify this, will we prioritise Article 18 in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office business plan and across government departments? Has the FCO considered convening an international conference on Article 18—something I have raised with her? Is it an issue we will raise at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta in November?
In May, the Labour Party gave a welcome manifesto commitment to appoint a Canadian-style special envoy to promote Article 18. The Foreign Office resists this, insisting that all our diplomats promote freedom of religion and belief. But that has not been my experience. On returning to Istanbul from a visit to a 1,900 year-old Syrian Orthodox community in Tur Abdin, which was literally under siege, I was told by our UK representative that his role was to represent Britain’s commercial and security interests and that religious freedom was a domestic matter in which he did not want to become involved. Self-evidently, there is a direct connection with our security interests, not least with millions of displaced refugees and migrants now fleeing religious persecution.
Paradoxically, if he had studied the empirical research on the crossover between freedom of religion and belief, and a nation’s stability and prosperity, he might have come to a very different conclusion. Where Article 18 is trampled on, the reverse is also true, as a cursory examination of the hobbled economies of countries such as North Korea and Eritrea immediately reveals. This is not a marginal concern, as the outstanding briefing material for our debate from many human rights organisations makes clear.
Last month, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and I chaired the launch of a report by Human Rights Without Frontiers. Among its catalogue of egregious and serious violations, it says that North Korea, China and Iran had the highest number of people imprisoned, in their thousands, for their religion or belief. It highlights Pakistan, where in 2011 two politicians who questioned the blasphemy laws were shot dead; where Asia Bibi remains imprisoned with four other Christians and nine non-Christians, facing the death sentence for alleged blasphemy; and where Shias and Ahmadis have faced ferocious deadly attacks.
When did we last raise these cases and other abuses of Article 18 with Pakistan, or the use of blasphemy laws in Sudan, where two pastors are currently on trial, facing charges that carry the death sentence? Have we urged Sudan to drop the charges against 10 young female Christian students who face up to 40 lashes because of the clothes they were wearing? What of the Chinese Christian lawyers arrested this week as part of a major crackdown? Will Article 18 be on the agenda for discussion with China’s President when he visits the United Kingdom?
I am a trustee of the charity Aid to the Church in Need, and the noble Baroness the Minister kindly launched its report, Religious Freedom in the World 2014, which found that religious freedom had deteriorated in almost half the countries of the world, with sectarian violence at a six-year high, nowhere more so than in the Middle East, where last week Pope Francis said that Christians are subject to genocide. In a recorded
message for that launch, His Royal Highness the Princes of Wales condemned “horrendous and heart-breaking” persecution, and spoke of his anguish at the plight of Christianity in the Middle East, in the region of its birth, describing events in Syria and Iraq as an “indescribable tragedy”.
In 1914, Christians made up a quarter of that region’s population. Now they are less than 5%. Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, during a meeting that I chaired here in the House, underlined their traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment, pleading with the international community to provide protection. Two weeks ago the same plea was made by a remarkable Yazidi woman who gave evidence at a meeting organised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. The Yazidi, a former Iraqi Member of Parliament, told us:
“The Yazidi people are going through mass murder. The objective is their annihilation. 3000 Yazidi girls are still in D’aesh hands, suffering rape and abuse. 500 young children have been captured, being trained as killing machines, to fight their own people. This is a genocide and the international community should say so”.
This view has been reinforced this week by reports on “Newsnight” and “Dispatches”. How will we answer that woman? Do we intend to use our voice in the Security Council on behalf of the Yazidis and Assyrian Christians? Do we intend to have the perpetrators brought to justice in the ICC? Are we collating and documenting every instance, from genocide and rape to the abduction of bishops and priests, to the burning of churches and mosques, to the beheading of Eritrean Christians and Egyptian Copts by ISIS in Libya? What are we doing to create safe havens where these minorities might be protected?
In 1933, Franz Werfel published a novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, based on a true story about the Armenian genocide. His books were burnt by the Nazis, no doubt to try to erase humanity’s memory, Hitler having famously asked, “Who now remembers the Armenians?”. The Armenian deportations and genocide claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian Christians. Werfel tells the story of several thousand Christians who took refuge on the mountain of Musa Dagh. The intervention of the French navy led to their dramatic rescue.
A hundred years later, the Yazidis besieged on Mount Sinjar were saved, but their lives are still in the balance. Last week the Belgians made it to Aleppo and brought 200 Yazdis and Christians to safety. For fragile communities facing a perilous future, such as these, could we not do the same? Are we re-examining our asylum rules to reflect the lethal threats faced by families and individuals fleeing their native homelands?
In the longer term, should not the international community have a more consistent approach to Article 18? We denounce some countries while appeasing others who directly enable jihad through financial support or the sale of arms. Western powers are seen as hypocrites when our business interests determine how offended we are by gross human rights abuses. Take Saudi Arabia as one example.
The challenge is vigorously to promote Article 18 through our interventions and our aid programmes, unceasingly countering a fundamentalism that promotes hatred of difference and persecutes those who hold
different beliefs. For the future, the three Abrahamic religions and Governments need to recapture the idealism of Eleanor Roosevelt, who described the 1948 declaration as,
“the international Magna Carta for all mankind”.
She said that Article 18 freedoms were to be one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. Who can doubt that this essential freedom needs to be given far greater emphasis and priority in these troubled times? I beg to move.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on obtaining this debate, on the eloquent way in which he introduced it and on the tremendous illustrations that he gave of how bad the situation is throughout the world. I do not have the qualifications to follow him, and certainly do not have the qualifications to be in front of many leaders in this debate, but here I am, and I shall try to make the best of it. I also wish to express my deep gratitude to Edward Scott of our Library for the excellent brief he prepared for this debate, which shows the position in great and excruciating detail. I am sure that anyone who has read it will feel tremendous sympathy and a loathing for what is happening to so many of our fellow humans throughout the world for the simple reason that they have adopted a faith or belief, including a non-faith—no belief at all, which is also protected—in the execution of their ordinary lives and have been tremendously badly dealt with on that account.
I declare my interest as a professing Christian for most of my life, and a practising Christian so far as I can. I am sorry to say that I have not reached the extent of perfection in that area which I would have liked. I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester is speaking in this debate, although I am very sorry that it will be a valedictory speech. He has given most distinguished service in this House and also in his diocese in an area where there is a great deal of difference and, I hope, also the dignity of difference in ethnic and other communities. I wish him well in his retirement.
Speaking from the government Dispatch Box when she was a Minister in the Home Office, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, expressed the view that her religion defined her personality. This shows that the restriction of a person’s faith or belief is as serious as any other restriction of personal freedom. The brief to which I have referred and the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, show that mistreatment for faith and belief throughout the world extends to much more than restriction of bodily movement. It goes to serious injury and death in the most terrible circumstances.
Yesterday we had outside the House a demonstration relating to prisoners of conscience. This is a most important aspect of the human personality—the internal monitor which tells us that what we are doing is wrong, even when no human eye can see us, and whether or not what we are doing is in according with the tenets of the faith, belief or non-belief we seek to follow.
In preserving standards in society, listening to conscience is an extremely effective activity. More so even than an effective enforcement system, it can preserve society’s standards. It was valued in our nation during two world wars. Persons with a conscientious objection to military service were exempted from the universal obligation to enlist. It was also shown in relation to the Abortion Act.
Charities based on faith have done tremendous service in many nations throughout the world. It surely is the most terrible damage to a nation’s people that they are debarred from having these services simply on the ground of the faith of the organisation that is providing them. In our own country, we had the problem of the Catholic adoption agencies that were providing an excellent service but which were debarred from continuing to do so because they were not able to offer as full a service as some would have required.
I am sure that leading by example is one important way to contribute in trying to help with this tremendous problem. I am sure there are many other ways, which will be illustrated by the distinguished speakers to follow.
Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in this debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing it, as well as on the work that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, have done over many months and years on this issue.
As we know, Article 18 is under threat in over a quarter of the nations in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has given eloquent testimony to what is happening. I want, however, to focus on the domestic—on us. To change the world, first we have to change ourselves. When the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury took office, he said that one of his three principles was the concept of good disagreement. That is a very important concept for us.
As I remember from my childhood in Scotland, the society had been scarred by what the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, has referred to as sibling rivalry—bigoted, religious, sibling rivalry. In 1923, the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland asked for Irish immigrants to be repatriated. More specifically, it was Catholic Irish immigrants, like my forebears. So if good people had not got together and ensured that that crusade failed, I, for one, would probably not be here today. It was good people walking together. There is still a legacy in Scotland; we have to recognise that sectarianism has not departed. Our own experiences should teach us a lot.
As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, said in his book, which makes compelling reading, we need faith to strengthen, not to dampen, our shared humanity. He made it very clear, as we all know, that it will be soft power that wins this battle—if we can call it a battle. It will not be hard power. War is won by weapons, but dialogue wins the peace.
have contributed greatly to the dialogue. It is a dialogue with strangers. The biblio-patriarch Abraham has been referred to. Abraham’s test of worthiness, as we know, is the question, “Did you show kindness to strangers?”. Abraham ruled no empire, he commanded no army, he conquered no territory, but today he is revered by 2.5 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, and 13 million Jews. The Abrahamic faiths and others need to walk much closer together.
That is very hard to envisage today, but we can look back at our short history to see that there have been successes. With Vatican II in the 1960s, Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Nostra Aetate, transformed the relationship between Catholics and Jews, and 2,000 years of pain and sorrow were diluted as a result of that engagement. That prompts the question: can the world be changed? If the Christian and Jewish relationship can be changed, can the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Sikh and non-faith relationships be changed as well? Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Laudato Si’, is an encouraging example because he embraces all humankind. He makes a call in the very first paragraph of the encyclical for care for our common earthly home. He says:
For a very short time in the Labour Government I had the privilege of being Minister for Northern Ireland. I saw examples in the peace process in Northern Ireland, but I shall illustrate just two examples today. The first is Gordon Wilson, whose daughter was killed in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb. He had to hold her hand while she was dying and she said that she loved him. Immediately after that, he came out and said:
The other example that I remember was Father Alec Reid, the late Redemptorist priest from Clonard monastery in Belfast, who was a silent architect of the peace process because he allowed Gerry Adams, John Hume and others to come together to ensure that there was a dialogue and an understanding there. The photograph of Father Reid giving the last rites to soldier David Howes, when he and another colleague ran into a republican funeral, is one that will stay with us.
That is an example of the good of two individuals confronting the evils of terrorism. In a 20th-century world dominated by violence and mayhem in the name of religion, our task, perhaps akin to the task of the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Bible, is to multiply that number, not 1 millionfold or 10 millionfold but 100 millionfold. Eighteenth-century author Jonathan Swift’s statement is maybe as relevant today, and something for us to remember:
The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the debate for a few moments, but I ask noble Lords to remember that it is time-limited to five minutes per speaker. Once the clock reaches five, your Lordships are out of time.
Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, I join in the congratulations that have been expressed to my noble friend Lord Alton for the powerful way in which he introduced this debate, and indeed for the consistent and wonderful way in which he always defends the rights of people’s religious freedom. On no occasion have I heard him speak more powerfully on the subject than he did today.
My old friend Dennis Wrigley, founder of the Maranatha community, asks if we care that entire Christian communities have been wiped out in the Middle East and what we are prepared to do about it. Those are questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer.
However, the challenge is in fact much greater than that. Daesh makes no secret of its intention to expand its so-called caliphate from its base in Syria and Iraq so that it covers the rest of the Middle East and north Africa. Ultimately it aims to spread its interpretation of seventh-century Islamic governance and beliefs across the whole world, eliminating all other faiths by conversion or assassination, as it has already demonstrated by the massacres of Yazidis, Christians and Shia and the enslavement of the martyrs’ widows in the territory that it occupies.
“The faster the Muslim world can be shown that ISIS is not invincible and does not have a divine mandate to rule the Islamic world, the quicker young Muslims and others will stop listening to its messaging”.
The coalition needs to ratchet up military operations against the Daesh and we should explore the willingness of our partners in the 60-state coalition to provide troops for a multinational ground force in Syria. We are providing 75 military instructors and headquarters staff as part of the US-led programme to support the “moderate Syrian opposition”. Can the Minister please identity the groups included in that phrase. They do not include, apparently, the heroic YPG which successfully repelled the Daesh assault on Kobane at the end of last year. Operations on that frontier would have the merit of not undermining the Assad Government’s capacity to hold the Daesh at bay.
The so-called caliphate sends out a powerful signal to extremist Sunni Muslims elsewhere that they can help towards the realisation of the universal Islamic state by destabilising existing kufr Governments through acts of indiscriminate terrorism such as the attack on British tourists in Tunisia. However, the main thrust of Daesh operations this year outside its own territory
has been attacks against the soft target of Shia mosques in neighbouring Arab countries. In March there were simultaneous attacks on two mosques in Sanaa, capital of Yemen, killing 137 people and injuring 357. In May there were two attacks on Shia mosques in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, killing 29 and injuring more than 85; and on 2 June, a Shia mosque in Kuwait was attacked, killing at least 27 and injuring 227 others.
However, it goes wider than that. In Pakistan, terrorist groups swearing allegiance to the Daesh have been responsible for three major atrocities so far this year: the suicide bombing of an imambargah at Shikarpur in January, which killed 80 and injured 100; a suicide attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar, capital of troubled Balochistan, in February, killing a least 22 and injuring 80 at Friday prayers; and a gun attack by killers on motorcycles on a bus carrying Ismailis in Karachi in May, killing at least 26 and injuring 13. Eliminating the Daesh, its metastases and its wicked ideology taught in Saudi-funded madrassahs throughout the world must be the main goal of all who believe in freedom of religion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in the debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing it and for all the work he has undertaken in this area over many years. I associate myself very closely with what he said in his very eloquent opening speech and also with the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I also pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. He will be much missed by this House and I will miss him enormously for the wise advice he has given me on numerous occasions.
We have already heard many examples of the horrific situations around the world where people are persecuted for their religion or for their absence of religion. I witnessed such persecution in its rawest form many times during my visits in 2013 and 2014 to the 37 other provinces of the Anglican communion. Almost half of these provinces are living under persecution; they fear for their lives every day.
I will make two points in the short time available in this debate The first is that the relationship between law and religion is invariably a delicate one. The passionately lived religious life or passionately lived humanist life of many people around the world and in this country cannot be compartmentalised within our legal and political systems. It is not good enough to say that religion is free within the law. As was eloquently pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, religion defines us—it is the fundamental element of who and what we are. Thus, religious freedom and the freedom not to have a religion stands beneath the law, supporting it and creating the circumstances in which you can have effective law, as has been the case in this country since the sealing of Magna Carta 800 years ago, negotiated by my predecessor Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. In its first clause, it says that,
“the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired”—
Religion gave birth to the rule of law, particularly through Judaism. The question is therefore: how do we translate this undiminished right and unimpaired liberty into the contemporary situation, where, too often, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, culture, law and religion seem to have incommensurable values? The foundational freedom of religious freedom in the state prevents the state claiming the ultimate loyalty in every area, a loyalty to which it has no right—never has done and never will do—if we believe in the ultimate dignity of the human being.
My second point is that religious freedom is threatened on a global scale, as we have heard, but also in a very complex way. Attacks on religious freedom are often linked to economic circumstances, to sociology, to history and to many other factors. Practically, if we are to defend religious liberty, we have to draw in these other factors. For example, if we want to defend religious freedom around the world—and again I say, the freedom to have no religion—do not sell guns to people who oppress religious freedom; do not launder their money; restrict trade with them; confine the way in which we deal with them; and, above, all, speak frankly and openly, naming them for what they are.
Where a state claims the ultimate right to oppress religious freedom, it stops the last and the strongest barrier against tyranny. From the beginning of time—from the beginning of the Christian era, when the apostles said that they would obey God rather than the Sanhedrin, through the Reformation to the martyrs of communism, to Bonhoeffer and to Archbishop Tutu—up to our own day around the world, we have needed religious freedom as a global defence of freedom.
“the English Church shall be free”,
meaning from state intervention, which at that time of course meant the king. Freedom of religion or belief, as set out in Article 18, is another deeply constitutional statement. As the UN special rapporteur illustrated in his comment to me, “There is lots of religion in Vietnam but not a lot of it is free”. The declaration is founded on individuals enjoying human rights when the state knows how to behave, knows its own limits and understands its role as protector of its citizens’ human rights from violation by third parties. In old communist states such as Vietnam, religion is controlled by the state, but another common backdrop to many Article 18 violations is an inappropriate connection between a religious institution or a faith or a stream of one faith, and the state. Often, that institution or faith has such preference that pluralism is suffocated, and, in the extreme, a religion becomes identified with nationality. Is Myanmar’s identity becoming synonymous with being Buddhist? The Rohinga Muslims are denied citizenship and an outcry by Buddhist extremists led the Government to capitulate and confiscate their only identity document.
I am intrigued that Her Majesty’s Government can exhibit the FCO priority of freedom of religion and belief in our newly opened visa office in Rangoon. I expect my noble friend will have to write to me on this, but how is the United Kingdom able to offer UK visas, regardless of religion, when Rohinga Muslims have no documentation? Is it only wealthy Buddhist tourists or business men—not Muslims or Christians—who can come to the UK? The Rohingans were disenfranchised in this year’s election. It is also proposed that half a million refugees from the Central African Republic, 90% of whom are Muslim, be denied their voting rights. What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the CAR’s interim Government? Will this not increase the risk of refugees who are languishing in Chad being recruited to IS, which is already recruiting from neighbouring Sudan?
The trajectory on this issue has spiralled. However, I highlight Vietnam, Myanmar and CAR because they are in, I believe, the doable category. In 2006 Vietnam was removed, with American pressure, from the list of countries of particular concern, but has now fallen back. The UN special rapporteur visited in 2014 and found serious Article 18 violations and,
“credible information that some individuals whom I wanted to meet with had been either under heavy surveillance, warned, intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by the police”.
The Human Rights Watch report, Persecuting “Evil Way” Religion, details state persecution of central highland Christians, many of whom have fled to Cambodia. Cambodia refuses to allow them to claim asylum and returns them, rather like China does to those who escape North Korea. Will the Minister please make representations to Cambodia to allow the UN to process refugees there, if it is unwilling to comply with its international obligations?
The digital revolution could create further Article 18 violations. According to a report in the Economist, by 2020 80% of adults will have a smartphone that is able to receive different religious messages that state or religious leaders will scarcely be able to control. Will many more people start switching faith, challenging existing political and religious power structures?
We should also keep a close eye on what is happening under the new Government of India. We do not want to add into this space a rise of Hindu militancy which is semi-connected to identity, and to see the persecution of a large number of Muslims and Christians.
Who knows what the future holds? Many Governments, parliamentarians, religious leaders and royalty have, however, grasped the Article 18 issue, and the Pope’s celebrity status at the UN General Assembly in September is incredibly timely. The missing players—consumers and businesses—need to enter the stage, and it looks as if Brazil, at the Olympics, will be introducing the Global Business & Interfaith Understanding Awards, which they hope to become part of the Games. However, if by 2020 violations have flat-lined, that will indeed be an achievement.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB): My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate, and for his sterling work in putting concern for human rights high on the agenda of this House.
Article 18 of the 1948 UN declaration is unambiguous in its guarantee of freedom of religion and belief. Yet we live in a world where those rights are all too frequently ignored. We have been recently remembering the horror of Srebrenica, where, 20 years ago, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb forces and ruthlessly murdered simply because they were Muslims. Last year Sikhs commemorated the 30th anniversary of the brutal murder of thousands of Sikhs in India, simply for being Sikhs. The Middle East has become a cauldron of religious intolerance and unbelievable barbarity. The number of Christians has dwindled alarmingly. We hear daily of thousands fleeing religious persecution in leaky, overcrowded boats, with little food or water.
Where have we gone wrong? In commerce or industry, if a clearly desirable idea or initiative fails again and again, it goes back to the drawing board. Today we need to ask ourselves: why is there widespread abuse of the right to freedom of belief? This important right, like all others embedded in the UN declaration, needs the total commitment of countries with political clout to make it a reality. Unfortunately, even permanent members of the Security Council frequently put trade and political alliances with countries with appalling human rights records above a commitment to human rights. There are many examples, but time permits me to mention only a couple relating to our own country.
During the visit of a Chinese trade delegation in June last year, a government Minister said that we should not allow human rights abuses to “get in the way” of trade. His statement, undermining the UN declaration, went virtually unchallenged. At about the same time, we had a Statement in your Lordships’ House that the Government were pressing for a UN-led inquiry into human rights abuse in Sri Lanka. Fine, but when I asked whether the Government would also support a similar inquiry into the mass killing of Sikhs in India—yes, I know it is a much bigger trading partner—I received a brusque reply that that was a matter for the Indian Government.
I have asked on five occasions the question why the UK Government regard the systematic killing of Sikhs in India as being of no concern to the United Kingdom, only to get the same dismissive non-response. I ask it again today, and hope that noble Lords and Britain’s 500,000 Sikhs will get the courtesy of a proper, considered reply. The great human rights activist, Andrei Sakharov, said that we must be even-handed in looking at human rights abuse. If our country—one of the most enlightened in the world—puts trade above human rights, it is easy to understand why other countries turn a blind eye to rights such as freedom of belief. It is a right so central in Sikhism that our ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, gave his life defending the right of Hindus—a different religion from his own—against forced conversion by the then Mughal rulers.
We can list human rights abuse for ever and a day without making a jot of difference if we and other great powers continue to put trade and power bloc politics above human rights. We start each day in this House with Prayers to remind us to act in accord with Christ’s teachings. He, like Guru Nanak, reminded us never to put material gain before concern for our fellow beings. We need to act on such far-sighted advice.
The Lord Bishop of Leicester (Valedictory Speech): My Lords, I want to add my thanks to that of so many others to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this matter before us, not least as it provides me with an opportunity to make a final speech to your Lordships’ House on a matter of such overwhelming importance.
My retirement, I am delighted to say, will in some small way enhance religious freedom in this House by providing a seat for the first female Lord Spiritual in history to occupy this Bench in the autumn. It is especially good to be following the noble Lord, Lord Singh, whose contributions here testify to the commitment of this House to religious freedom in so many ways.
The spread of global religious revival in the 21st century is described by Mickelthwait and Wooldridge in their book God is Back. They argue that it is fuelled by market competition and a customer-driven approach to salvation. In the five years since its publication, they could not have imagined how those principles would mutate into the present appalling world crisis, so vividly described by so many speakers. The challenge to religious freedoms derives in part from treating faith as a consumer preference rather than the most profound definition of what it is to be human.
In my 16 years as Bishop of Leicester, we have learned much about the principles and practice of religious freedom and the way it shapes the deepest contours of the human psyche. As well as having local applications, that also has international implications. The first principle is that it is not enough simply to defend religious freedom; it has to be positively exercised in ways that encourage others to embrace it. It involves drawing on the spiritual resources of faith to unlock the best in others, to speak on behalf of the voiceless and to create community. When a young Nigerian Christian was murdered in Highfields in Leicester two years ago, there was an immediate retaliatory attack on an entirely innocent Muslim family, killed by a fire bomb on the same day. The tensions were palpable, but were eventually calmed by systematic, careful conversations and the public ritualising of grief and reconciliation on both sides.
Secondly, the principle that religious freedom is an inalienable right means that we interpret an attack on one faith as an attack on all peoples of faith. Treasuring the dignity of every human being includes treasuring the rights of others to their beliefs, especially when we disagree. That is why the Muslim leadership turned out in strength the other day at Leicester Cathedral to respect the victims of the Sousse massacre two weeks ago.
Thirdly, freedom is not a passive state. It results from the dynamic process of actively learning how others live and what they believe, and of sustained and co-operative support for each other in shared enterprises. Here, too, local practice can inform international strategy. We need to learn the best habits of face-to-face conversations with those we disagree with, especially over the big challenges of the day—climate change, poverty, conversions, gender equality and so on.
It has been an immense privilege to play a small part in the life of this House over the last 12 years and to Convene the Bishops’ Bench for six of them. It has confirmed me in the belief that the presence of the Bishops here serves rather than impedes religious freedom in countless ways. It has been rewarded with friendships, kindnesses, courtesies and opportunities far beyond my expectations or desserts. I am deeply grateful for that and even more grateful for the responsibility to think and speak carefully about how a vision of the kingdom of Jesus Christ can still shape and inform public policy today. Your Lordships’ House deserves the attention, interest and prayers of all people. It will certainly have mine in the years ahead.
Lord Carey of Clifton (CB): As the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, is not able to be in the House today, it falls to me to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his remarkable contribution over many years to this House and to wish him every success in what he goes on to do.
I join other Peers in thanking my noble friend Lord Alton for introducing this debate. As with other important human issues, he is so often the conscience of this House, and we are in his debt once more.
The freedom to think, change one’s mind, change religion, become an atheist, become a believer, and belong to tolerant and open societies is among the blessings of being a human person. Thus enshrined as Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this great moral principle emerged from the last world war, in which millions of people were murdered because they were different. Now, 67 years later, this great article of freedom is under attack in many parts of the world.
Others have described very graphically the situation facing Christian believers and others in many different parts of the world. The recent report, Global Persecution, produced by the Maranatha community, and the report launched in November by the charity Aid to the Church in Need, Religious Freedom in the World, which my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned, describe the way minorities in the Middle East, especially Christians, are being targeted. Speaking about this in November, as my noble friend also mentioned, the Prince of Wales described Christians as being “grotesquely and barbarously assaulted” in the Middle East. Many of us are very grateful to the Prince of Wales for the stance that he has taken on religious freedom over the years. His courageous and forthright statements have won the admiration of many and he has set an example that I fervently wish our senior politicians had the boldness to emulate. But it is not just Christians that Article 18 seeks to protect. It sets forth the humanist
vision of thought: freedom for the Yazidis in Iraq, for Shia Muslims in Sunni territories and for Sunnis in Shia lands, and the freedom to embrace atheism or agnosticism, should one wish to do so.
The fact that we have to face honestly is that so much of the trouble is in countries dominated by Islam; let us get to the heart of this. Yet, in the past, Islam has flourished as a beacon of civilisation and tolerance. Indeed, one of the finest texts in the Koran states:
The verse is often used in interfaith contexts to show the broadmindedness of Islam. But we have to recognise that the plain meaning of that text is questioned by many Muslim scholars today. In my view—dare I say it as a non-Muslim?—this verse contains all that is necessary for Muslims to start the journey towards free, tolerant and pluralist societies. However, the rhetoric is fine but the reality is very different. It grieves me to say that there are not many Muslim-majority countries in which the freedom set out in Article 18 exists. Of course, there are Muslim countries where other faiths are tolerated but, even in those more tolerant nations, Christians cannot share their faith openly and advertise it; and Muslims cannot, with any ease, choose another faith, should they so desire.
Intolerance seems to be spreading. There has recently been a spate of church and mosque burnings in Israel, which is very disappointing as Israel has every justification for claiming to be the only democratic nation in the Middle East. Among the buildings burnt was the famous Tabgha church, which commemorates the multiplication of loaves and fishes in the gospel story.
During my time as Archbishop of Canterbury, I challenged Muslim leaders worldwide to embrace the principle of reciprocity; it remains a dream and an ideal. Here in the United Kingdom there is no barrier to belief and no restriction on believers, as long as we all behave within the breadth of British law. The ideal of reciprocity demands that people of all nations should work together to ensure that freedom to change and grow is granted to all of us, men and women alike.
Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who often places a demand on this House to examine what, for believers, is God’s big idea. This debate asks us to examine an idea that was introduced by the creator, as Christians believe. The author Myles Munroe suggests that the idea is beyond the philosophical reserves of human history. The big idea appears to have germinated all religions to which humans adhere. Today we examine the big idea and ask: have we achieved it—a culture of equality, peace, unity and respect for human dignity? No, we have not.
Faith has always played a major role in the lives of individuals and institutions. It is the basis on which we build our lives and our perspective of the world. Faith is the belief that, even in the darkest of times, there is still hope to hold on to. But as our world has become
more intolerant and more hateful, the candlelight that guides believers from all denominations is being forcibly snuffed out at an alarming rate.
The deprioritisation by the international community of upholding the right to freedom of religion set out in Article 18 has had a detrimental effect on all human rights of the persecuted. Not only are they forced to worship in secret but, if caught, they can be murdered, tortured, imprisoned, beaten and even expelled from public life, including from the right to vote. According to a report by Open Doors, 100 million Christians face persecution worldwide. That is 100 million people from just one faith, having all their rights stripped away. If we show solidarity and do more to protect the rights of marginalised religious groups across the globe, I am sure we shall see an increase in respect for human rights as a whole. Can man ever be truly free if he is not allowed to have his own thoughts? If a believer can stare down the barrel of a gun and state, “My belief shall not be shaken”, we must be brave enough to stand up and say to those oppressive governments, “It is time to protect your civilians, who committed no crime but to have faith”.
However, we must lead by example as faith has long been the bones behind the laws of our country. But now the laws of our country are breaking those bones. How can we champion human rights and freedom if we do not implement Article 18 to its full extent? There has been a worrying trend emerging in British politics, a trend that is moving to oppress the freedoms of religious minorities. We say we are a Christian nation, yet there is nothing Christian in the actions of the Government in recent weeks. Article 18 can be invoked when a Government or organisation enacts a policy that unfairly impacts on minority religious groups. The two-child tax credit limit will have a distinct impact on the rights of many Catholics who, as a choice of their conscience, do not use contraception. Giving them a choice between poverty or breaking their religious code is a distinct attack on freedom of belief and conscience.
Further limitations on religious freedom have come from the heart of Westminster in a package that is supposed to suppress terrorism and protect our western values. I hope this House agrees with me that you cannot protect democracy and freedom by taking away democracy and freedom, yet that appears to be the aim of the Prevent strategy and the passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not only for initiating the debate but preying on my conscience and encouraging me to contribute. Sadly, history shows us that religious wars and conflicts are not new. However, in modern times there has been more of an acceptance that those of different faiths and none have to get on together and at least tolerate one’s fellow man, if not necessarily love him.
family, who lost a grandmother and an aunt in Poland in the 1940s. So, I was very moved to hear reports of a rescue operation last week to seek, in a modest way, to take action against the barbaric treatment of Christian sects in the IS heartland of Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation. This appears to be an operation by the Barnabas Fund, an international relief agency for the persecuted church with the financial co-operation of certain Jewish organisations and philanthropists, to transfer Christian families to safe havens. I understand that this in an ongoing project to evacuate Christians from those lands where they have dwelt for 2,000 years. What these Christian communities are experiencing is not new to the Jewish communities throughout the Middle East and North Africa, whose persecution led to an exodus of some 850,000 Jews from Arab lands.
The clash of faiths causes these confrontations. It may seem a paradox but the country in the Middle East that is most welcoming to Christians, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, mentioned in passing, is Israel. Christianity is one of the recognized religions in Israel and is practised by more than 161,000 Israeli citizens—about 2.1% of the population. In Israel, there are approximately 300 Christians who have chosen to convert from Islam. Very sadly, such apostasy is not allowed in much of the rest of the Middle East. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave a graphic description of many of the injustices that take place and which I cover with the word “apostasy”. I will not repeat them as he did it so well.
Adversity, however, does reveal heroes. A few days ago, one of the heroes of the Holocaust died at the age of 106. I refer of course to Sir Nicolas Winton, who organised eight trains to take 669 children to London from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The British people made room for these refugees and I can only hope that in Britain and the rest of Europe we will rise to the challenge in the present times. We are so fortunate in the United Kingdom but the tolerance we have requires vigilance to ensure that it stays that way. When we see the intolerance of people’s religion and beliefs in many parts of the world, which has been referred to by other noble Lords, we must praise the courage and resilience of those affected; many would have given way to despair.
In the modern world, many now describe themselves as secular. But a very large number of people, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords, follow one of the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Although all three of these faiths share a common history and traditions, they too often emphasise their differences rather than their common beliefs. Christianity has, I believe, 2 billion adherents, Islam 1.3 billion, and Judaism, which comes slightly further behind, a mere 14 million. But there are splits within all these religions, be they Catholic-Orthodox, Catholic-Protestant, Shia- Sunni, or Orthodox-Reform. Whatever the differences, as the Motion before us says, we should as a nation uphold freedom of religion and belief and not enforce or impose our beliefs on others by the sword. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, whom I must compliment on his superb speech, talked about defending religious freedom. That is what this is about. But it is also about allowing one to give up
one’s faith, to change one’s faith, or to have no faith; it is a defence of freedom, of which religion is a part. I will end with the words of Nelson Mandela:
Baroness O’Loan (CB): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling this important debate. Freedom of religion or belief is not only a fundamental human right in itself: as Pope John Paul II said, it is a,
“litmus test for the respect of all other human rights”.
I endorse the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, in relation to the UK’s modelling of support for freedom of religion and conscience and particularly, as a Catholic, his words in relation to the Catholic adoption agencies. Freedom of religion and conscience is very important in this country still. We have Christian medical practitioners who face massive challenges of conscience simply in doing their jobs. They may even have to leave their jobs in order to comply with their conscience. We need as a country to think again about how we enable and reflect support for freedom of religion and conscience.
As we have heard today, millions in the world are deprived of this most basic freedom and face torture, imprisonment, harassment and even death because of their beliefs. But we can make a difference. Despite the current controversy about the outworking of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK has a proud history of protecting human rights across the world. We have worked closely with the churches—often the last remaining network of communication in conflicted societies.
In recent years the UK has led the world in historic initiatives to tackle some of the most challenging issues, including modern slavery and sexual violence in warfare. With the same level of commitment, cross-party support and co-operation with our partners in the international community, there is an opportunity to make the principles of Article 18 a reality for so many more people. The UN has stated that,
“no manifestation of religion or belief may amount to propaganda for war or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.
It is extremely encouraging that the Government have made a manifesto commitment to stand up for freedom of religion and I look forward to hearing more detail from the Minister about how this will be put into practice. In particular, will promoting freedom of religion or belief be included as a specific priority in the FCO business plan? Will extra resources be provided to assist our diplomatic missions, particularly those covering the most difficult parts of the world, in achieving this?
Some of the most appalling abuses are taking place in Iraq and Syria, where ISIL continues to slaughter and enslave adherents of minority religions. I will touch briefly upon Iraq’s Kurdish region, where almost 2 million people have found sanctuary so far. It is a
testament to the Kurdish Regional Government that although their population has already grown by a staggering 28% as a result of the refugee influx, they continue to keep their doors open and provide security for people fleeing Mosul or the Nineveh Plains. Many of these refugees are Christians or Yazidis who have seen their family members killed, their businesses seized and their places of worship destroyed. Alongside the local authorities, Christian communities are providing shelter, food, et cetera, to the refugees. The Catholic Church in Irbil alone is accommodating more than 125,000 people, including many Yazidi families. Will the Minister outline what support we are providing to help the Kurdish Regional Government and churches in the region?
Reference has already been made to the thousands of Rohingya Muslims who are making treacherous and often fatal journeys across the Andaman Sea, trying to escape escalating persecution at the hands of Burma’s authorities. Hate speech and xenophobic attacks are allowed to continue unchallenged. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship, cajoled into camps and prevented from accessing humanitarian assistance. The Burmese Government have also passed a package of laws targeting religious minorities which may prevent people converting, marrying or even starting a family. These laws have been condemned by Burma’s first Catholic cardinal, Charles Bo. In a response to me in this Chamber recently, the Minister agreed with that condemnation. Will she update us on the UK’s response to the Burmese package of laws? I would also be grateful for an outline of any recent discussions with other states about the rescue and accommodation of Rohingya refugees.
In Iran, under the principle of the absolute rule of the clergy—velayat-e faqih—during this Ramadan at least 900 people were arrested and many were flogged for not fasting. There is no freedom not to be religious. Many of the sentences against the youth were carried out in public. I would be most grateful if the Minister could confirm the representations that have been made in respect of this. I am encouraged by the Government’s commitment and welcome the opportunity to discuss how the UK will play its part.
Lord Sheikh (Con): My Lords, I speak today as a Muslim. I also speak as somebody who cherishes the role that all faiths and communities play. I undertake a lot of work with other religious groups. I am a patron of several Muslim and non-Muslim organisations that promote religious harmony.
Our respective religions teach us valuable lessons in morality, help us interpret the world around us and give us guidance when we are in need. For many people, their religion is very precious to them. I agree wholeheartedly with the Motion: a greater priority should be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.
It is right that everybody in the world should be entitled to this freedom. However, it is being violated by some misguided people. This debate is very topical because of events taking place across the Middle East
and north Africa. My glorious religion of Islam is being hijacked by a tiny minority who have misrepresented it and wholly, totally wrongly portrayed the true message of Islam. I emphasise that Islam is indeed a religion of peace.
What is happening in these countries is strongly against the principles of Islam. What Daesh is doing and saying in Syria, Iraq and other places is totally wrong and un-Islamic. I remind them that it is written in the Holy Koran that there should be no compulsion in religion and that no one should be forced to become a Muslim. The Holy Koran celebrates different beliefs as a means of connecting with people. It is written in the Holy Koran:
My religion teaches us to know and be friendly to people of other faiths. Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions and, according to Islam, the People of the Book are the Jews and Christians. The books of Allah are the Holy Koran, the Torah, the Gospel of Jesus and the Psalms of David. There has been a case in London where a Somali Muslim mosque was damaged and the Jewish community allowed them to pray in the synagogue. We appreciate this very much.
Two of the most successful emperors of India were Akbar the Great, who was a Muslim, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who was a Sikh. They both allowed all religious groups to live in harmony in their empires. I hold great personal admiration for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. I have written a book about him that will be published shortly. There are more similarities than differences between people, and we should highlight the similarities in order to establish closer links between communities. It should also be noted that allowing freedom of religion often brings stability and prosperity to a country. As a businessman, I have found it to be beneficial for economic and social development, as well as for the religious communities themselves.
We must use this debate to commend and celebrate what is happening in the United Kingdom. Although the Church of England is the official church, people of all religions are allowed to practise their respective faiths. We are a tolerant and respectful people. This country should be viewed as a model for others to follow. We cannot overstate the importance attached to upholding Article 18, yet so many abuses and violations of it continue to take place. We must lead the world in ensuring that people feel free to practise their religion, both in private and in public. May God help us to achieve this.
Lord Sacks (CB): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling us again to address this vital issue of religious freedom, and I salute the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for chairing the APPG on International Religious Freedom or Belief. I salute the courage of both of them in confronting perhaps the single greatest humanitarian issue of our time. I add my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his warm, wise and inspiring contributions to public life, and wish him blessings in the years ahead.
Three things have happened to change the religious landscape of the world. First, the secular nationalist regimes that appeared in many parts of the world in the 20th century have given rise to powerful religious counter-revolutions. Secondly, these counter-revolutions are led by religion in its most extreme, adversarial and anti-Western form. Thirdly, the revolution in information technology has allowed these groups to form, organise and communicate to actual and potential followers throughout the world with astonishing speed. The internet is to radical political religions what printing was to Martin Luther. It allows them to circumvent and outflank all existing structures of power. The result has been the politicisation of religion and the religionising of politics, which, throughout history, has been a deadly combination. In the long run, it will threaten us all, because in a global age no country or culture is an island.
We must do, minimally, three things. First, given that religious freedom is enshrined as Article 18 in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there should be, under the auspices of the United Nations, a global gathering of religious leaders and thinkers to formulate an agreed set of principles that are sustainable theologically within their respective faiths and on which member nations can be called to account. Otherwise, Article 18 will continue to be a utopian ideal.
Secondly, we must do the theological work. That is fundamental. After the wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries, a group of thinkers, among them John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Benedict Spinoza, sat down, reread the Bible and formulated some of the most important ideas ever formulated about state and society: the social contract, the moral limits of power, the liberty of conscience, the doctrine of toleration and the very concept of human rights. These were religious ideals based on the Bible, which is what John F Kennedy meant when he said in his inaugural address that,
“the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God”.
We have not yet done the theological work for a global society in the information age, and not all religions in the world are yet fully part of that conversation. But if we neglect the theology, all else will fail.
Thirdly, we must stand together—the people of all faiths and of none—for we are all at risk. Christians are being persecuted throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Jews are facing a new and resurgent anti-Semitism. Muslims who stand on the wrong side of the Sunni-Shia divide are being killed in great numbers. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’i and others face persecution in some parts of the world. There must be some set of principles that we can appeal to, and be held accountable to, if our common humanity is to survive our religious differences. Religious freedom is about our common humanity, and we must fight for it if we are not to lose it. This, I believe, is the issue of our time.
Lord Harrison (Lab): My Lords, I speak in today’s debate as a loyal member of God’s Opposition. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for highlighting both the freedom of religion and the freedom of belief in the titles of this Article 18 debate and of the all-party group over which the noble Baroness so impressively presides. I also thank Christian Solidarity Worldwide, not only for providing me with excellent material concerning the persecution of atheists and secularists in Egypt and Indonesia but for its pastoral prison visit to Alex Aan, jailed in Jakarta as an atheist.
We atheists must show solidarity with our religious colleagues over religious persecution, especially at a time when atheists and secularists are increasingly joining the growing list of people persecuted worldwide for the beliefs they uphold, whether religious or otherwise. The horror of machete-wielding Islamists slaying humanist bloggers in Bangladesh recently was admirably highlighted by the brave Bonya Ahmed in her recent address to the British Humanist Association at the annual Voltaire lecture.
In the United Kingdom, many will be heartened by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent observation that religious freedom demands space to be challenged and defended, without responding destructively. This echoed Rowan Williams’s reservation in 2013 that sometimes UK and US Christians exaggerate mild discomfort over social issues such as pro-gay legislation while failing to emphasise systematic brutality and often murderous hostility practised by religious fanatics abroad.
I asked the Minister why humanists and atheists in Britain are still thoughtlessly excluded from contributing to Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”. Why does the DCMS stolidly exclude the Defence Humanists, formerly the UK Armed Forces Humanist Association, from the annual Cenotaph commemoration? Do dead non-believers, fallen in war defending our cherished values, not deserve a silent vigil in the public square? And why are we conducting this debate in the House of Lords, which still reserves a privileged place for the state religion?
I encourage colleagues not to take the opportunity of the occasional ad hominem criticism of distinguished atheists such as Richard Dawkins. I ask the Minister to reply to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the FCO and whether we are promoting business and trade, which I thoroughly encourage. However, we should use some of our resources to ensure that we promote Article 18 in all its aspects. Can she also update us on what is happening with the blasphemy laws in Malta, and in Iceland, although it is not part of the European Union?
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Ind UU): My Lords, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton for his tenacity in pursuing this issue. No one whom I have known during my 32 years in Parliament has
been so consistent in his adherence to and struggle for the proper implementation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I intend to use the very short time available to me to consider whether we in the United Kingdom lead by example in respect of our own practice of Article 18 or whether we are a society where leadership is generally content to pay mere lip service. Often it appears to me that we are regularly subjected to the excitement of individualistic excesses that elevate individual selfishness above and beyond the traditional and tried practices and discipline with which I grew up.
Of course society evolves, but why does that mean that some, like the Reverend Richard Page JP, a faithful, public-spirited magistrate in Kent for 15 years and a long-respected member of the Family Court, should be officially and publicly pilloried because, as a practising Christian, he expressed to colleagues, in private, how he was able to reconcile his public duties with his Christian faith? Is there any justice in the fact that the Lord Chancellor in the previous coalition Government should seek to justify having suspended Richard Page by having imposed remedial training in a manner that is little different from the brain-washing and conditioning so beloved of totalitarian states?
Do not tell me that the environment is different. It is not about the difference between chairs and chains; it is about the impact on society. Richard Page’s persecution by Lord Chancellor Grayling began on 2 July 2014 and continues into the second year. In the interim, he is denied even the right to express his opinion to the press. So what was Richard Page’s offence that has nullified the last days of an exemplary working life? He had stated that his lawful and considered judgment that it is better for children to be adopted by both a father and a mother derived from his faith. When a same-sex male couple from Belfast sought precedence over a normal foster couple, he made a decision. Well done Richard Page—and I say that as a father and grandfather.
Where will this case lead? Back in 2010, ex-Lord Chancellor Grayling had been on the other side of the fence when he had supported the rights of owners of bed and breakfast establishments to refuse accommodation to gay couples. Perhaps I should quote the ex-Lord Chancellor at that time, but I shall not. I shall simply ask: what could possibly have induced him to change? Is the future of children less relevant than who may soil the bed linen? Where does this presumptuous and intellectually questionable logic take us in respect of the sixth and eighth commandments? Sorry, I must not mention such things as the sixth and eighth commandments. It is a good job I cannot be suspended—although some may seek to explore the possibility.
I was, of course, alluding to how we must implement our laws on theft and murder. If some intellectual snob decides to undermine them, I take it that the rest of us may be denied any right to mention our Christian or social heritage. I just do not have time to elaborate on other current matters of conscience, such as where Christian bakers are now, apparently, bound by law to promote and advocate matters that offend
their Christian faith. Is that what equality is? Of course, I am protected here—unlike those street preachers in our society who the police are so easily persuaded have given offence.
Lord Scott of Foscote (CB): My Lords, I am very grateful, as are noble Lords who have expressed their feelings to me, to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for arranging this debate. I have heard nothing in the course of it with which I have found any possible point of disagreement. I do not want to repeat everything everybody else has said far more lucidly and fluently than I can. I just want to add a few family details that give me a perspective that may be a little different.
Both of my grandfathers were Church of England clergyman. I was brought up as an Anglican and I was sent, as was my sister, to an Anglican school. This was in South Africa. We both came over to England, where all my relations were Anglicans. Accordingly, when in Chicago in 1959 I met, fell in love with and married a Panamanian Latin American Catholic, I wondered what her reception by the rest of the family would be. It was absolutely perfect. They loved her and had the same feelings towards her as I had become accustomed to them having towards me.
The reason I mention this is that that was in a way a mixed marriage, because Anglicans marrying Catholics was not that usual in South Africa. I do not know if it was usual in England, as I was not in England then. The two of us were blessed with four children—two boys and two girls—each of whom was christened and brought up as a Catholic. When I married my wife, I had to sign a chit to say that I agreed to all my children being brought up as Catholics. I was perfectly happy with that. The four children we had are themselves all married and had children, so I have 12 grandchildren.
Two of my children converted and became Muslims. Of my 12 grandchildren, seven of them are Muslims—I was going to say “little Muslims”, but they are not so little, because the oldest is 21 or 22. Of the 12 grandchildren, seven are Muslims, three are Catholic and two are not really anything. Their relationship with one another is as close—as familial—as it could possibly be. They all know that there are differences between them and that they are of different religions, and it does not matter a jot. I can see no conceivable reason why it should. The ones who have no religion at all are always quite curious about what the others believe. The ones who have a religion, have two different religions—Christianity and Islam—which are both monotheistic religions. I do not know whether this is how they would put it, but as far as I am concerned, if there is a God, which I certainly hope there is, they are all worshipping the same God, albeit in slightly different ways.
I simply cannot believe that the divine being—assuming there is one—really minds a jot in what manner the worship takes place, provided that it is sincere and truly meant. Accordingly, having Muslims and Christians
in one family has been no problem at all. They stay with one another; they stay with their aunts and uncles of different religions; the Muslims come and stay with their Christian aunts and uncles and vice versa.
I have been saddened by listening to the remarks made by a number of your Lordships. I am sure that they all relate accurately the horrors and sadnesses that have happened, but nothing of my own experience of a family with mixed Muslims and Christians bears any resemblance to that. Nor do I see any reason why it should with anyone else. As I have said, the fact that there are different religions should not matter, and I believe does not matter. That is the only addition I wanted to make to what has already been said, with which I fully agree.
Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Alton, initiated a more general debate a year ago, the situation has surely become worse in terms of compliance with the universal declaration. I am appalled by the hypocrisy of so many countries ready to sign up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and yet ready to deny their citizens those same rights. Of course, one worrying development since the 1948 universal declaration is the development of non-state actors such as Boko Haram, ISIS or failed states such as the Central African Republic where the Government do not exist or are incapable of preventing violations. But the 1948 principles are universal and attempts to circumvent them by devices such as blasphemy laws should fail. There are no exemptions. We should support all persecuted minorities. I note that of the 49 countries of a Muslim culture, 17 tolerate no other religion. What should we do—what can we do—about these violations?
I shall avoid a Cook’s tour of all the defaulting countries, but I shall draw attention to some key themes. First, we are fortunate to have so much material available from official, semi-official and unofficial sources. We in this country are blessed to have so many non-governmental organisations in the field, many of them based here, such as CSW, Open Doors, Maranatha, Barnabas and Aid to the Church in Need. As a general point, although our focus today is on Article 18, those countries that respect religious minorities are also those with the best human rights records across the board.
Secondly, there are many temptations for Governments and diplomats in the field. The professional deformation of diplomats is the wish to be loved and not to offend, so often, human rights are marginalised or given a lower status in the hierarchy. Governments may claim that they use a big stick but they do so only in private, although I accept that in certain cases, such as China, private representations may be the most effective means to help individuals. The other temptation is to be strong on the weak but weak on the strong. For example, of the nine countries designated by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, three, including Saudi Arabia, are,
“for reasons of important national interest”,
Thirdly, we in the UK are fortunate because of our membership of so many international organisations. The question surely is: what use do we make of that membership? What value do we add in terms of violations of religious and human rights? What initiatives, for example, have we made in the UN, where we are now a member of the UN Human Rights Council? In the EU, do we believe that the External Action Service is adequately staffed? Are there human rights experts in the Cabinet of the high representative? Do we support conditionality in aid and development policies? The Commonwealth, as we know, has made grand declarations such as the Harare declaration and the Commonwealth Charter, yet 10 Commonwealth countries appear in the Open Doors watch list, including Malaysia, where recently life has become much harder for Christians.
Broadly, we in the UK give a relatively good example of human rights at home. However, mention has already been made of the disastrous policy in respect of the Catholic adoption agencies and the suffering of young people as a result. By passing to other agencies, this could quite easily have been avoided.
The FCO’s human rights report has improved over the years. Consultation with NGOs has become more formalised but we need to look carefully at models in other countries and see whether we can improve our position, because we have not reached perfection. I do not have time to look at all the examples, such as the example of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom or what the State Department does in its annual report on international religious freedom to encourage improvements and to give help to immigration officials.
Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB): My Lords, it is unsurprising that the bulk of today’s debate should have focused on the many ghastly violations of Article 18 that, alas, continue to disfigure so many parts of the world. However, with some small encouragement from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, whose introduction to this debate was, as ever, compelling, I intend instead to focus on a much narrower question that sometimes arises: when the right to manifest—not to hold, but to manifest—one’s religion or belief must surrender to the rights and interests of others. It is a question that has exercised the courts of this country and elsewhere on a number of occasions.
Article 18 of the universal declaration appears on the face of it to confer two unqualified rights: the right to freedom of religion or belief, and the right to manifest that religion or belief. But that is not quite so. It is widely recognised not to be so in international law, including, most relevantly for our purposes, in Article 9 of the European Convention, which, of course, is the equivalent provision and is now incorporated under domestic law here. Article 9.1 of the convention is in effectively identical terms to Article 18 of the
universal declaration, but Article 9.2 makes it plain that the manifestation of one’s religion or belief is a qualified, not an absolute, right. It provides for limitations to the right,
“in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
It is generally the protection of the rights and freedoms of others and, above all, the increasing recognition of the rights of others, in particular gays and lesbians, not to be discriminated against that has led to much of the litigation under this provision.
Take the Supreme Court case of Bull and Bull—touched on recently, if perhaps a little tendentiously, by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis—which held that Christian hotelkeepers, however strongly held their belief that homosexual practices are sinful, could not on that ground alone refuse to let a double-bed room to a homosexual couple. The court pointed out that Strasbourg requires very weighty reasons to justify discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Another case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, was the Northern Irish one, just two months back, which held that a bakery had unlawfully discriminated against a gay supporter of same-sex marriage for whom they had initially agreed, but later refused, to bake a cake iced with a logo including the slogan, “Support gay marriage”.
There was also Strasbourg’s decision two years ago, in a group of United Kingdom cases concerning religion in the workplace, to dismiss three of the four applications, including those of Lillian Ladele, a civil registrar for Islington, who was disciplined for violating the borough’s “dignity for all” policy by refusing to register partnerships because of her belief that homosexuality is sinful; and Gary McFarlane, a sex therapist dismissed by Relate, a counselling charity, for refusing, on the same grounds, to provide sex therapy for same-sex couples. Similarly, under Article 9.2, in 2005, in the Williamson case, the appeal committee in this House rejected the claimants’ asserted right as teachers and parents at a school established specifically to provide Christian education based on biblical observance to use corporal punishment despite contrary legislation. Indeed, the next year in the Denbigh High School case we rejected a Muslim schoolgirl’s claim to have been wrongly excluded from the school unless she wore the school uniform instead of the jilbab she insisted on wearing. Many of your Lordships will recall too the recent Crown Court ruling that a woman must remove her Muslim veil, charged as she was with victim intimidation, so that the jury could properly observe her facial expression.
These are just some of the many cases which show that, absolute though one’s right to freedom of religion and belief is, in deciding whether to exercise it there are other important interests and considerations in play. Believe whatever you wish, but in your behaviour think of others too. Surely that is a sound precept.
Liverpool, in obtaining this debate and giving us the opportunity not just to speak but to listen and think about these matters.
I, too, start by declaring interests. One is the research work that I do at Oxford University and the other is that of being, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a practising Christian—practising for many years but seemingly no nearer to expertise, but that is the way of these things.
I want not to go back over the many things that have been said by other noble Lords but to refer to some of my own experience in these matters. Very understandably, noble Lords have outlined the horrible evidences of religious intolerance and radical political belief which have led to horrible violence and which continue, seemingly ever worsening, all around the world. It is understandable that we focus on that because it raises our emotions of fear, anguish, hurt and sometimes even hate, but of course what we are speaking about there is the right to life, not just the right to a belief or a religious faith. In a way, we are both very privileged and a little disadvantaged by working in this place, where there is an enormous amount of tolerance. People are prepared to listen to each other and to accept great differences of belief of different kinds.
In passing, I say that we are foolish if we think that there is religious belief and unbelief. The truth is that people who do not have religious beliefs have beliefs of their own. Perhaps there has tended to be the notion that we can resolve a lot of these matters if we simply put religious beliefs into a private box and have a society where some other kind of belief—whatever it is—runs the show or has a prevailing effect. However, the truth is that religious faith, like any other kind of belief, impacts entirely on your way of being in the world and on your community and its way of being in the world. Thinking that somehow or other it is possible to say, “Well, that doesn’t really matter”, says something about your kind of belief; it does not say anything about whether you are a believer of some description. You cannot not believe: you have a set of views, and it is very important for us to understand that.
I come to this with my own background in a particular part of the United Kingdom. Sometimes people would like to forget that it is part of the United Kingdom because of some of the symptoms of behaviour there, particularly in relation to matters such as this, but I am afraid that it is. Maybe it reminds the rest of the United Kingdom of its history and background. Many of the things that are still troublesome in Northern Ireland were troublesome in the rest of the United Kingdom not so very long ago. Noble Lords would not expect me, from these Benches, to speak out particularly strongly in favour of the presence of an established church, although I have to say that in these last decades the Church of England has had a markedly positive effect, both in this Chamber and elsewhere. I particularly want to acknowledge the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester over many years. When I was Convenor of these Benches, I very much appreciated his work as Convenor of those Benches. I also want to mention the work of the most reverend Primate, who has taken a very strong line on these issues.
I got to know the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his role as Liberal spokesman on Northern Ireland. Back then, we had to face up to the fact that people had sets of beliefs which led to very intolerant behaviour and attitudes to each other. If I had gone to university in this part of the United Kingdom in the latter part of the 19th century, before the Liberal changes to universities legislation, I, as a dissenter, would not have been able to take a degree at Oxford or Cambridge.
Therefore, on the question of how we deal with these matters, we have progressed in certain ways but I fear that we have not progressed as much as we would like to believe we have, because there is a certain liberal intolerance towards people with various kinds of religious belief. That is clear—it has been mentioned—and it is absolutely true. I have seen it among a number of colleagues in various places. The view is, “It really would be much better if people just piped down about those kinds of things because they can be put in a private box”. However, they cannot. It may be inconvenient and difficult but the fact is that these are matters that drive people and are of profound importance to them. We have to struggle with these questions. As we try to struggle with them, what kinds of things can we take into account?
We must understand that, when it comes to tolerance in these matters, we face a very difficult challenge. The challenge is to differentiate between matters that we usually consider all together. The question of fundamentalism transcends all kinds of beliefs, religious and otherwise. I would find it much easier to reach agreement with people of different religious views, and people whose views are not religious, who had a liberal perspective on these matters. I would find myself much more different from Christians, or others of any description, who took a fundamentalist approach to these things—including those who are fundamentalist atheists. This notion of the way in which we hold our beliefs is extremely important. The noble Lord, Lord Sacks, picked up an extremely important part of this, which is that secular authoritarianism has led, as a reaction, to religious fundamentalism. We must acknowledge and understand that, and that has not been easy to deal with. An example is Turkey, where it was easy to support a secular regime and then be astonished at the reaction.
Secondly, we must differentiate between fundamentalism and radicalisation and the use of violence and terror. These are not the same thing. The vast majority of fundamentalists may well be intolerant of the religious beliefs of others—fundamentalism and conservatism are very different things—but that does not necessarily mean that they support violence. Indeed, many of those who support violence, including people in Daesh, do not come to it from a religious perspective at all. When His Holiness the Pope came to Ireland and said on bended knee to Catholic nationalist republicans, “Stop the violence”, they took no notice of him. They did not pay attention because the actual driver was something quite different. In a long conversation with a leading figure in al-Qaeda many years ago, I was talking about religious tolerance and he said, “Wait a minute. My issue is not about religion. It is about political identity and political problems”.
So, as we try to explore these questions, we must hold back our emotions—because they are very strong—and think more deeply about these issues across the religious differences and across the differences between those who have religious faith and those whose set of beliefs is different. Therefore, to me, the most important question to the Minister is this: can the Foreign Office, DCLG and other departments of government give more attention and resource to thinking and research on these matters? That would deepen our understanding, so that when we respond—in all the difficult circumstances inside and outside our country—we may to do so with a depth of understanding that helps us to add to and make a difference to wider thinking about these matters, rather than simply reacting from our very understandable feelings.
Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, the ability of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to secure debates in this House has long been one of the wonders of the world. It may well have something to do with the important and fascinating subjects he selects for his debates. The debate on Article 18 has almost become an annual event, and so it should be. However, I wonder whether, without the noble Lord’s energy and commitment, it would have been. Congratulations are due to him, and to all the other very distinguished Peers who have spoken so well and movingly.
In some ways I find myself in a position where I do not have much that is original to add. We have heard marvellous speeches that have made the important points that must be made, and made again, until the world takes notice. In this debate we have heard horrific examples of appalling intolerance and discrimination from all over our planet and affecting all religions. On behalf of the Opposition I will try to say something useful and pose some questions for the Minister, who is, if I may say so, exactly the right Minister to be answering this debate.
Before I do, I hope that the House will indulge me for a moment or two—perhaps rather longer than would normally be the case—if I say something about the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, or Bishop Tim as he is universally known in Leicester and Leicestershire. I am proud to call myself a friend as well as a colleague. I live in the diocese he has led for the last 16 years, and I only wish that more noble Lords present today had been present at the service held last Saturday at Leicester Cathedral to celebrate his tenure. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. The respect and affection in which he is held by all—rich and poor, black and white, old and young—was shown not just by the packed cathedral, with people following the service from outside, but by the extraordinary feeling that a unique and very special person who had influenced Leicester so much, with all its diversity, was actually leaving.
The right reverend Prelate will be hugely missed in the city and in the county, just as he will be in this House. Above all, he seems to me as good an example as I have ever known of the priest in the public space—a phrase I do not like. In other words, he speaks to his community about issues that actually affect their daily lives. His passion for social justice, I
know, has been heightened by his experience in Leicester. Frankly, I do not think that this House or our country can afford to lose him. On a slightly lighter note, how can one not admire a bishop who chooses for his desert island discs a song by the boy band, One Direction, and whose chosen luxury item was an infinite supply of golf balls?
Let us get back to this debate, not least the contribution of the right reverend Prelate himself. It has centred on the increasing violations of Article 18, as it affects Christianity and, equally importantly, all other religions and beliefs. The Human Rights and Democracy Report 2014,produced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is a deeply depressing document but it forces us to face up to the reality that in our world today there are shocking examples, both collective and individual, of how religion is used—or perhaps, more properly, abused—to discriminate and act against others.
One of the worst consequences of any general election is that Parliament loses outstanding men and women who either retire or are unsuccessful in the election itself. These people, who come from all parties, of course, are often experts in particular policy areas, and their knowledge and experience is very much missed. One such, I would argue, is the former shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander who enjoyed a deserved reputation as an expert in the field that we are debating today. Some noble Lords will remember his article in the Telegraph at Christmas 2014, when he said:
“Faith leaders beyond the Christian community have been forceful in their campaigns on anti-Christian persecution, including former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who described it as ‘one of the crimes against humanity of our time’ and stated he was ‘appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked’. Just like anti-Semitism or Islamaphobia, anti-Christian persecution must be named for the evil that it is, and challenged systematically by people of faith and of no faith. Government should be doing much more to try and harness the concern, expertise and understanding of faith leaders from across the UK and beyond”.
In the same article, Mr Alexander suggested that the role of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, as Minister of Faith in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was then removed to the Department for Communities and Local Government, should be returned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He hoped that Her Majesty’s Government would follow the lead of the United States and Canada in appointing an international ambassador for tackling religious persecution—in other words, a global envoy for religious freedom reporting directly to the Foreign Secretary of the day. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, that was in my party’s manifesto in the election in May. Have the Government any plans to appoint such an ambassador or envoy and, if not, what reason can there be for not doing so? I also want to ask about the Minister of Faith role and the setting up of a multi-faith advisory committee.
House and outside it. No one is suggesting that there are any easy answers to the problem of the increased violation of Article 18. However, I suggest to the House that the steps Mr Alexander put forward might well be useful in showing the world that Britain is even more determined to fight religious intolerance wherever and whenever we see it. For far too long Article 18 has been justifiably called an orphaned right. It is well past time that this description no longer applied and that Article 18, at long last, becomes more of a reality.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, freedom of religion or belief and the right to hold no belief is a key human right. It is under attack in almost every corner of the globe. We see Muslims sentenced to death for blasphemy; Christians burned in brick ovens or forced to give birth in chains; Yazidis trapped on mountains, their women abused as sex slaves; innocents attacked in their churches, synagogues and mosques, the very places they should feel most safe; and sledgehammers taken to religious and cultural artefacts in an attempt to obliterate centuries of faith and civilisation. The ongoing assault on freedom of religion or belief is absolutely unacceptable, and noble Lords have made that clear in their views today.
I would like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this very important debate, and to everyone who has made such valuable contributions today. If I may, I particularly add my support to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in his tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester—it was well said by the noble Lord.
The debate has made very clear the scope and scale of the challenge. I would like to touch on some of the major challenges to freedom of religion or belief, explain why this Government have indeed made it a priority and inform the House of the work that we are doing to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief, and the right to hold no belief, around the world.
This Government understand the scope and scale of the challenge—we, too, are horrified. The brutal terrorist group known as ISIL, or Daesh, is making the headlines every day with images of Christians executed on beaches or civilians being thrown off buildings for refusing to abandon their beliefs. I know that it is not just a matter of the cases that make the headlines. It is the steady and systematic bias against people on the basis of their faith, denying them a fair trial, proper investigation of complaints to the police and even adequate education for their children, all of which is potentially more far-reaching. Where there is a culture of impunity, which we condemn, people are taught to believe that followers of other religions are fair game, and then mob violence can so easily follow—and does. Where children are taught to hate those with different beliefs, this provides fertile soil for extremism to take root.
Freedom of religion or belief is not just an optional extra, or nice to have; it is the key human right. It allows each citizen to follow their conscience in the way they see fit. As this Government made clear in our manifesto:
“the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.
Quite apart from any legal or moral obligation, we promote religious freedom as essential to our social, cultural and economic development. That is why this Government have made freedom of religion and belief a priority, not just in the FCO but across government. It is enshrined in international law, it makes social sense and it is morally right.
So what are we doing? We have been working on this issue through a comprehensive multilateral, bilateral and projects-based approach. The UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 of March 2011 calls on all UN member states to take action against intolerance on the basis of religion or belief, and to promote the free and equal participation in society of all—both the religious and the non-religious. It has given us that important starting point. I vividly remember a meeting in Morocco earlier this year, in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, during which ambassadors from all points of the religious compass spoke to me of this resolution as something to hold onto in a time of crisis. We will continue to use our influence and diplomatic networks as effectively as possible. We are playing an active part in a new international contact group on FoRB, convened by Canada. Last month, I met the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, and we discussed areas where the international community might work more closely together. We will continue to encourage the EU to ensure that its guidelines on FoRB are put into practice in individual countries.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked whether we would reconsider having a global ambassador. We have our global ambassadors. They have their reach in every country on the globe and know how important it is that they promote freedom of religion and belief. It is not contradictory to say that we can trade with certain countries, provided that they do not contravene international humanitarian law. Our trade with them does not undermine our right to stand up for not only freedom of religion and belief but other human rights; we make that clear.
We are just as active on bilateral channels. Every Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office acts as an ambassador for this fundamental right. Each one of us, as a Minister, raises and promotes these issues in the countries or organisations for which we have responsibility. My noble friend Lady Berridge and others referred to Burma. We have raised our concern about the situation of the Rohingya community in all our recent ministerial contacts with the Burmese Government. Most recently, my honourable friend Mr Swire called the Burmese ambassador to the FCO on 18 May to express our concern about the Rohingya
situation and the related migrant crisis in the Bay of Bengal. We urged Burma to act swiftly to deal with the humanitarian implications, but also to address the underlying causes.
We also seek to protect religious freedom through our project work. We support projects to tackle discriminatory legislation and attitudes, and we are working with human rights and faith-based organisations across the world to promote dialogue, build capacity, foster links and strengthen understanding. I had hoped to give a few examples but I will have to leave that for another occasion or I will not be able to allow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, a moment or two to respond; I know that we are pressing up against the deadline.
We are already addressing the question of how to make sure that freedom of religion and belief is addressed throughout the world. We use our full range of diplomatic response. However, I recognise—and I agree with noble Lords—that there remains so much more to do. I want to see us step up our engagement with individual Governments. Countries around the world need to know that Britain will stand up for this fundamental right. We must not be shy about coming forward.
In reply to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, I can say that we are deeply concerned at the imposition of the death penalty for blasphemy in the case of Asia Bibi and we hope that the verdict will be overturned on appeal.
Turning to the case of the Sudanese pastors, which was raised by the noble Lord, our ambassador has raised it at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Khartoum and with representatives of the ruling National Congress Party. As recently as 9 July, the UK special representative to Sudan and South Sudan raised our concerns about these specific cases with the Sudanese ambassador. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also referred to charges against Christian students. We will continue to call on the Government of Sudan to bring all their legislation in line with their constitutional and international human rights commitments. Noble Lords can be assured that these matters are part of the everyday work of our ambassadors around the world where FoRB is under threat.
I also want us as a Government to focus even more strongly on making freedom of religion or belief part of the answer to extremism. Where freedom of religion is protected, extremist ideologies are much less likely to take root. I want us to continue our focus on supporting the right of persecuted Christians, as well as those of all religions and none, to be able to stay in the Middle East, the region of their birth. We are already playing a leading role on this issue. At a UN Security Council debate on religious minorities in March, Tobias Ellwood, Minister for the Middle East, called for bold leadership from Governments and communities in the region to work for tolerance and reconciliation.
on how we may best develop our policies to support religious minorities in the Middle East. I was delighted to meet members of the APPG on International Religious Freedom or Belief recently, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with them as we further develop our policies.
We work with regional allies, helping them to ensure that the right legal frameworks are in place and supporting training initiatives to ensure that state and religious bodies understand the rights held by people from minorities. We are also considering further programmes to address the climate of impunity and legal discrimination, through training for security and police forces and sharing of UK best practice on reporting and prosecution of crimes. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about how important it is that we are able to provide support and training to the Iraqi Government to ensure people are protected, particularly in the north, to which he referred.
In parallel, I strongly believe that equipping our diplomats with a greater understanding of the key role faith plays in global politics helps us collectively to make better policy judgments and to understand when and where we can work with the grain of religious beliefs to further our human rights and other objectives. Therefore, we are increasing religious literacy training among FCO staff and across the whole of Whitehall. We are running regular training courses on religion and foreign policy, with a lively series of lunchtime seminars, and our new diplomatic academy contains an online foundation level module on religious literacy. FoRB is embedded in the work of all parts of the FCO both at home and abroad.
Just last month, I was pleased to host the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in conversation about religion and foreign policy. It was a marvellous experience to see the place crowded with more than 200 diplomats and people from across all departments in Whitehall, with people around the world listening to that very important conversation. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, urged the Government that there should be cross-departmental thoughtfulness about investment in these matters. I agree with him, and we are addressing that.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised particular questions about China. I will be brief and say that we are saddened by reports that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche has died in detention in China. We have raised his case with the Chinese authorities on a number of occasions, including during the UK-China human rights dialogue in April this year. We support and encourage the EU statement of 15 July which said that the EU expected the Chinese authorities to investigate and make public the circumstances surrounding Tenzin’s death.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also asked about the Chinese Christian lawyers who were arrested this week as part of a major crackdown. He asked what will happen with the Chinese state visit later this year and whether Article 18 will be on the agenda for discussions with China’s President when he visits the UK. The full programme for the visit is not yet fully fleshed out—and one would not expect it to be at this stage. However, we pay very close attention to the human rights situation in China. We are deeply concerned by reports of the
number of human rights lawyers and activists who have been detained since 9 July and we fully support the EU statement of 15 July, which states that the detentions raise serious questions about China’s commitment to strengthening the rule of law, and called for the release of those detained for seeking to protect rights provided by the Chinese constitution.
We have regular discussions with the Chinese authorities, including on human rights and rule-of-law issues. They will hear what I have said in public today—my colleagues have also said it in private—and I am sure they will be aware that these matters will be raised, not only by politicians but by the public, when the Chinese state visit takes place. I am sure that discussions about that visit will be wide ranging and naturally the Chinese Government will have an input. But as a country we believe firmly in making clear our commitment to human rights and we have an expectation that the Chinese Government will listen to that. They will take their own view naturally, as they always do.
The noble Lord, Lord Singh, raised the question of the mistreatment of Sikhs in India. Our High Commission in India regularly discusses minority issues, including Sikh prisoners, with the Indian Government and state authorities. We will continue to monitor the situation and maintain our dialogue with Indian officials.
Around the House there has been, over many years, a determination that we should keep a regular dialogue on matters of human rights. The discussion on freedom of religion or belief has perhaps received a better and more considered approach in this Chamber than almost any other, around not only Westminster but the devolved communities. It is important that we are able to maintain that discussion.
Perhaps there was just one Peer who raised the question of why we still have, in this House, the presence of those who have a right, because of their place in the Church of England, to be here. I strongly support their position because I find that their presence is always challenging—refreshing, but most decidedly challenging. But it is important that we welcome on the Cross Benches representatives of other faiths. I think that that enriches the debate here.
This morning, we were able to read an article by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Times. He made me reflect on the fact that Governments need to find ways to ensure that the transformational power of religious belief is able to play out in our societies. We must have countries where everyone is free to follow their own belief, to change their religion, or to choose to follow no religion at all. In those societies we find that life is fairer and more prosperous. His Grace made the point:
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, characteristically, the Minister has given the House a considered, detailed, thoughtful and extremely helpful reply to this extremely well-informed debate—characteristic itself of the place that the House of Lords is. That point was made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. We have
heard from people of all faiths and denominations and none, and all the speeches shed light on the nature of Article 18. The Minister just said that it is part of the answer to extremism and I entirely agree. I particularly welcome what she said about the importance of religious literacy and what she is doing to encourage people to understand better the forces that are driving on these malign forces in so many parts of the world today.
The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, with whom I work on the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief, where she does such a wonderful job, talked about my “uncanny knack” of coming up in the ballot—a point also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. Perhaps I should try my hand at the National Lottery. More seriously, it makes the point that the House should have an annual debate on human rights in Government time and I hope that the Minister will think about providing that so that it will not be left to the vagaries of the ballot, helpful though it is that we have been able to have this debate today.
Many noble Lords have given me undeserved generosity in the remarks they have made, none more so than the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As we walk in here each day, most of us probably pass the western wall of Westminster Abbey, where, among other things, we can see the statute of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered in El Salvador. Only a week ago the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was honoured in Mr Speaker’s House for all the work he did on behalf of Oscar Romero. Combined with that, the work he has done for human rights over the past 50 or 60 years really is unparalleled. At the age of 17, when I was interviewed by a local newspaper, I was asked if I wanted to go into politics. I said, “Not really, but if ever I did I hope I would be like Eric Lubbock”—as he then was. If people are looking for a role model, they could do no better than look at the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
Fifty years later there are other role models for the rising generation . I was very struck by the remarks of Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder in Pakistan because she rightly insisted on a girl’s right to an education :
Malala’s challenge and the fate of the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria or those denied an education in Pakistan go to the heart of Article 18. It is at the heart of what we have been debating today and it is a theme to which we must persistently return.
“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds … we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence … intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical … What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians”.
We should not become worn down either, whatever price has to be paid. We have enormous privileges, opportunities, liberties and freedoms in this place and we must use them to speak out on behalf of those to whom so much reference has been made today. The theme of conscience has come up again and again, whether in the domestic or international context. That, too, goes to the heart of Article 18. It is about the balance of rights that were referred to in the debate.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, in his valedictory address, enjoined and encouraged us to persist in what he called our defence of freedom of religion and belief. It is a message that we should all take to heart. We should never cease to use our privileges to speak up in the way that he has done for so long and so persistently. One noble Lord said that he could not understand the presence of the Bishops as an established part of your Lordships’ House. Others have been declaring interests; my Anglican wife is the daughter of a priest of 60 years’ standing in the Anglican Church, as his father was for 50 years. There are eight ordained Anglican clergy on my wife’s side of the family. I sometimes feel that it is a little like a family business. It seems to me—I know that my wife will want me to say this—that we are really blessed by the presence of the Bishops in this House, no one more so than the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. At the conclusion of this debate, we all wish him the very best in his retirement.
Also see Justin Welby in The Times:
On Thursday July 16th 2015 David Alton will lead a House of Lords debate on Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights – the right to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief.
He says: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the infamies of the twentieth century – from the Armenian genocide to the depredations of Stalin, Hitler and the Holocaust.
In response to the persecution of millions of people, targeted because of their religion or beliefs, Article 18 insisted on the freedom of all men and women to cherish and uphold their faith or beliefs – or to change them.
Seventy years later, from North Korea to Syria – and all over the world – Article 18 is honoured daily in its breach – evident in contemporary concentration camps, abductions, rape, imprisonment, displacement, persecution, public flogging, mass murder, and beheadings.
The House of Lords debate will be an opportunity to build on the All-Party Report “Article 18 – an orphaned right”; to highlight countries where Article 18 is under attack today; to discuss the clear links between freedom of religion and belief, a nation’s prosperity, stability, and the other rights enjoyed or denied its citizens; and to insist on greater political and diplomatic priority being given to upholding Article 18.
Among those who will speak are the Crossbench Peer, the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, whose most recent book focuses on religious liberty and Baroness (Elizabeth) Berridge, the Conservative Peer who chairs the All Party Group on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
“Religious persecution of Christians around the globe”: the future prognosis: David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool).
http://www.geopolitical-info.com/en/article/1435726790089290800 – Geopolitical Report on Religious Persecution
Franz Werfel’s disturbing and prophetic novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (Die vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh), written in 1933 , tells the story of genocide against Armenian Christians and foreshadows the rise of Hitler – whose Nazi thugs were burning Werfel’s books, in his native Austria and in Germany.
In this centenary of those events it is worth reminding ourselves of how the Ottomans attempted to eradicate the Armenian Christians and perpetrated further acts of genocide against their other Christian minorities, including Greeks and Assyrians – incubating that most dangerous pestilence: the hatred of whole peoples.
Not only should we recall those terrible events in order to give the lie to Hitler’s question “who now remembers the Armenians?” – insisting that we will never forget – but also because that deadly phenomenon of deportations, concentration camps, rape and killings did not end in 1915 with the Ottomans. Hitler thought he could get away with it because people hadn’t really protested against the genocide, and there wouldn’t be any consequences for him. He assumed (correctly) that people would murmur but not take any real action and therefore he could continue his reign of terror against the Jews and others.
There is an old Armenian saying, echoed in Musa Dagh, that “to be an Armenian is an impossibility”. It is a saying which, in the 1930s, would be understood by Jews, and which today is the experience of persecuted Christians – from North Korea to Pakistan, from China to Sudan: the world over. Prince Charles has described threats to Christians in the Middle East as “an indescribable tragedy”.
In the last census of the Ottoman era, conducted in 1914, Christians made up a quarter of the Middle East’s population. Now they are less than 5%. Christians in the Middle East represent less than 1% of the world’s Christians. If the current demographic trends continue, the Middle East’s population of 12 million Christians will be halved by 2020. As things stand, the current prognosis for Middle Eastern Christians could be fatal.
Systematic persecution is not a new phenomenon – consider the fate of St.Stephen or the persecutions of Nero or Diocletian – or even the Armenians – whose ancient kingdom became, in the fourth century, the first nation to officially embrace Christianity and who, according to Eusebius and Tertullian, were subjected to persecution by the Romans. The Empire had outlawed the new growing Christian faith and condemned all Christians to death.
Those events were recalled, this month, in the Glyndebourne premiere of Gaaetano Donizetti’s opera, Polyeucte, based on Pierre Corneille’s play about the martyrdom of Saint Polyeuctus and set in the third century in Melitiene, the capital of ancient Armenia.
Sixteen hundred year later the campaigns against the Armenian Christians and, in German South West Africa (Namibia) of racial extermination of the Herero and Nama people, would become the victims the first genocides of the twentieth century.
Werfel’s brilliant Musa Dagh homes in on a small community of 5,000 Armenians living in Hatay Province, with links to communities in, Zeitun, Alexandretta, Aleppo, and Mosul – where perpetrators of genocidal, systematic, crimes against humanity once again persecute with impunity.
Although, according to Gyula Orban, an official of Aid to the Church In Need, the Catholic relief agency founded by Norbertine priest Fr Werenfried Von Straaten, approximately 10 percent of the 2 billion Christians in the world suffer persecution, where other than Syria and Iraq might a review of the plight of the world’s persecuted Christians begin?
This month, Aleppo’s Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart described how his archbishopric in Aleppo – already hit more than 20 times by mortar shells – had once again come under fire and how Christians had lost lives, homes and livelihoods – and are being traumatised by the conflict.
He says: “ISIS, which has already killed thousands in the region, is terrifying the faithful in Aleppo. After attacks on Maloula, Mosul, Idleb and Palmyra, what is the West waiting for before it intervenes? What are the great nations waiting for before they put a halt to these monstrosities. Let me cry with my people, violated and murdered. Allow me to stand by numerous families in Aleppo who are in mourning. Because of this ugly and barbarous war, they have lost so many loved ones, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and cherished children.”
The region’s Chaldean Bishop, Antoine Audo, says that Aleppo’s 250,000 Christians have dwindled to below 100,000. Thousands have been killed, churches and ancient monasteries blown up, whole communities forced to flee, bishops and priests – such as Father Jacob Murad, Bishops Hanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazici – abducted, some executed. Torture, beheadings and even ‘crucifixion’ – the hanging of corpses of those they have executed on crosses – has become commonplace. Syrian Christians living in IS controlled areas are forced to convert or pay the punitive jizya tax.
In the seventh century Christians, in what is now Syria, had to pay half an ounce of gold to pay for the privilege of living under the protection of the Caliphate. If they didn’t pay they had two options: they could convert of “face the sword”. In February 2014, 20 or so Christian families still living in the northern Syrian town of Raqqa were given the same choice. The cost of protection is now the equivalent of $650 in Syrian pounds, a large amount for people struggling to make ends meet in a war zone.
Syria and Iraq, those hatcheries of Jihadism, have seen vast tracts of their territories become lawless and ungovernable with fault lines opening between Islamic extremists and moderates, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Sunnis and Shias – with funds and arms flowing in from the Gulf and Tehran.
Caught in the cross fire have been the law abiding minority communities – mainly Christians – who have lived in places like Aleppo and the Nineveh Plains for 2,000 years and continue to worship and speak in the Aramaic language of Jesus.
In recent weeks joint Assyrian and Kurdish forces recaptured a number of Christian villages in north eastern Syria from ISIS – although many of the original occupants remain unaccounted for and many of their homes have been left booby-trapped.
And will the international community do any more to protect them in the future than it has in the past? The failure to respond to Chaldean and Assyrian requests for a protected area for Christians near Nineveh is a scandal.
No wonder so many contemplate dangerous attempts to flee – including treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean.
The brutality of ISIS – or Daesh -, devoid of mercy, manifests itself in deadly beheadings accompanied by the year zero blitzkrieg of antiquities and ancient artefacts, in the depraved destruction of Christian churches, and the defilement of Shia mosques. The fall of Palmyra follows the bulldozing of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, the blowing up of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas and the Sufi monuments in Mali.
The Irish philosopher and British politician, Edmund Burke said that “our past is the capital of life” and what we are witnessing at the hands of ISIS is an attempt to eradicate the collective memory of humanity, destroying all that is “different” – while cynically smuggling and selling on the antiquities which they do not destroy to fund their campaign of mass murder – with Turkey turning a blind eye.
ISIS presents this as a clash of civilisations but the manner in which they debase all that is civilised simply pits civilisation against barbarism. ISIS is not just at war with civilisation, it is also at war with other Muslims and those of other faith traditions.
ISIS describes itself as the Islamic State – but this is a misnomer: it is certainly not a State and many Muslim scholars challenge the Islamic basis on which it forces Christians to convert or die invoking the Qur’ānic injunction that there should be no compulsion in religion (lā ikrāha fī ‘l-dīn :Q.2:256).
The same visceral hatred of Christians has been nurtured by other radical groups – from the Taliban to al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.
Last month, jihadist ideology led to the deaths of 147 students and staff in Kenya’s Garissa University College, with Christian students specifically singled out by al-Shabaab-affiliated Islamist militants.
Earlier this year, in Pakistan – following the 2013 killing of 85 Anglicans who were praying in their church at Peshawar –the same hatred led to the burning alive in a kiln of a Christian couple by a mob of 1,300 people while their young children were forced to watch. This week, in the British Parliament, MPs raised the tragic case of Nauman Masih, a 15 year old Christian boy, who on 9 April 2015, in Lahore, was beaten, tortured and burnt alive after he was identified as a Christian.
MPs called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Given the failure to bring to hold to account those who, in 2011, murdered the country’s only Christian Cabinet Minister, Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, don’t hold your breath.
At the time of Pakistan’s foundation its first President, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, said: “Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed.”
In 2015, in a population of over 172 million people, only about 1.5% (3 million) is Christians – half Catholic, half Protestant, – minorities are neither safeguarded or protected.
Think, too, of Nigeria and the depredations of Boko Haram – graphically illustrated by the abduction of young girls and the murder, in cold blood, of twenty nine students of the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, while they slept in their student hostels.
Churches have been bombed, pastors executed, Christians targeted and, despite the Government’s insistence that it is tackling Boko Haram, Reuters reports recent attacks, in the past few days, which have led to more than 80 people being killed. Boko Haram openly say their interim goal is “to eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country.”
The north-south conflict in Nigeria is reminiscent of Sudan – when, during the civil war, 2 million, mainly Christian people, were killed. Khartoum continues to target whole communities – having dropped more than 2500 bombs on its civilian, predominantly Christian, populations of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. In addition it has committed crimes against humanity in Darfur, which I have visited, and where they are being ethnically cleansed by co-religionists.
This unremitting violence has led to massive displacements and generated vast numbers of refugees. Eritrea, Sudan’s near neighbour, is the North Korea of Africa – and last month’s UN Commission report suggests crimes against humanity may have been committed there. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Eritrea, is responsible for around 18% of the 200,000 people who reached Europe in 2014. Having reached Libya some Eritreans Christians have then been cruelly beheaded by ISIS – in yet another display of their barbarism.
Protestors recently gathered in London, outside the Eritrean Embassy, to mark the thirteenth anniversary of the imposition of severe restrictions on churches in Eritrea, the deposing and house arrest of the Eritrean patriarch, Abune Antonnios and imprisonment of other Christians.
Eritrea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes and the largest refugee-producing countries. Freedom of religion and belief – guaranteed by Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – means nothing in Eritrea.
There is a direct correlation between the denial of Article 18 Freedoms – to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief – and the denial of other freedoms, the generation of violence, displacements, and the desperation which leads to the exodus of refugees.
By contrast, in those countries where Article 18 is honoured and upheld there is a direct correlation with internal harmony, development, prosperity and progress (something which China should study more closely).
Freedom of belief is at the heart of the struggle for the future of whole societies and countries.
Take Egypt – which was recently horrified by the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts who were working in Libya.
In 2013 I suggested that we should compare the charred husk of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, in 1938, with pictures of the blackened walls of Degla’s ruined Church of the Virgin Mary, and why August 2013 represent Egypt’s Kritallnacht.
It was one of many churches which was attacked – along with Christian homes and businesses. Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi the situation has improved but Dr.Mohamed Abul-Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, warned that the forced displacement of Coptic families by customary meetings is contrary to the Constitution, the principles of citizenship, humanity and justice – remarks which came against a backdrop of the displacement of a number of Coptic families in Beni Suef because a member of these families was accused of allegedly publishing cartoons of the Prophet of Islam on his Facebook account. The man is illiterate.
Abul-Ghar wrote in Al-Masry Al-Youm “Have you seen or heard about an Egyptian Muslim forced to leave his home by a customary meeting whatever his mistake is? So there is clear injustice and if there is a suspicion against a Copt, why is not he treated like a Muslim and referred to the public prosecutor?”
The Egyptian writer and novelist Fatima Naaot in a message to the President, says that the displacement of Christian families from their villages and the burning of their homes in the presence of security forces is a scandal that undermines the sovereignty of the Egyptian state and indicates the absence of the rule of law and the fall of the prestige of the Government and the President.
Last month the Egyptian TV presenter, Islam al-Beheiry, was sentenced to five years in prison with labour for “contempt of religion.”
At the beginning of this year President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gave a speech at Cairo’s Al-Azhar in which he called for a “religious revolution” to re-examine those aspects of Islamic thinking that “make an enemy of the whole world.” Yet, despite his timely and important call for religious renewal, ‘contempt of religion’ and blasphemy charges are occurring more frequently. These can be an impediment to healthy and constructive religious debate and can encourage vindictive acts.
It against this background – from Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, and many other countries in which Christians and others are persecuted for their beliefs – that June 2015 has witnessed the staging of a UN human rights conference on combatting intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.
I couldn’t work out whether it was a black sense of humour or a rather astute move to have asked Saudi Arabia to host this event in Jeddah.
Given that Saudi is one of the worst violators of religious freedom, and that Saudi Wahhabism has fuelled so many of these conflicts, it did seem comparable to inviting Herod into the kindergarten.
Given the West’s oil dependent, arms providing, symbiotic relationship with Saudi it is hard to imagine much being said at that Conference about the Saudi human rights activist, Raif Badawi, languishing in prison for the crime of religious dissent and under threat of further public flogging and potential execution – let alone its outright persecution of Christians. Saudi Arabia ranks sixth on the 2014 World Watch List of most repressive countries for Christians, a list compiled by the charity, Open Doors.
When a country like Saudi Arabia passes legislation defining atheists as terrorists, beheads or tortures its citizens, and refuses to protect the right of minorities to follow their beliefs, or to have no belief, is it any wonder that such actions are mimicked by ISIS? Saudi Arabia beheads people in the public square – 100 executions already this year – a practice routinely practised by ISIS.
The aim of the Jeddah Conference was to discuss how to effectively implement UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on combating religious intolerance, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against people due to their religion or beliefs.
Unlike ISIS, Saudi Arabia really is an Islamic State and it would be the first place to start in heralding an acceptance of pluralism of belief and the upholding of diversity and difference.
In his opening speech to the Conference, OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani said that the international human rights community attached great importance to combating religious intolerance. Madani correctly observed that religious hatred needs to be addressed at all levels, including the need to ascertain the limits of freedom of expression to determine where it ends and transforms into incitement to hatred.
Beyond conferences and speeches, remains the challenge to world leaders to champion and uphold the rule of law and the protection of minorities. That is the antidote to Jihadist ideology, not assassination squads or endless bombardments.
The challenge is to bring to justice war lords and regime leaders responsible for persecution and atrocities; to increase the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court (not providing impunity to indicted leaders such as Sudan’s Omar al Bashir, as South Africa recently did); to systematically collect evidence; to document these atrocities and to demand that the Security Council instigate prosecutions.
We also need to create more safe havens to protect beleaguered groups of Christians, and others, and every Foreign Minister needs to promote Article 18 obligations. Dag Hammarskjold, one of the great Secretary Generals of the UN, once said that “The UN wasn’t founded to take mankind to paradise but rather to save humanity from hell.” It’s hard to see that, in vast tracts of the world, the international community is achieving even that limited objective.
The UN, our Western legislators, policy makers and media need to become literate about religion. How right is the BBC’s courageous Chief Correspondent, Lyse Doucet, when she says: “If you don’t understand religion – including the abuse of religion – it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world.”
At the heart of all these challenges is the central question of how we learn to live together, tolerantly respecting and rejoicing in the dignity of difference; emphasising our common humanity; promoting the ability of members of all religious faiths to manifest their religion; and allow all people to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society.
Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder in Pakistan because she insisted on a girl’s right to an education, rightly insists that “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”. Are we going to stand with Malala against those who try to deny women education, who use education to promote hatred of difference, who teach that non adherents are destined for the fires of hell and murder in God’s name?
Our aid programmes and humanitarian interventions must surely reflect our own values and be used to protect minorities, to provide security, and to open the possibility of decent lives for those currently trying to flee their native home lands. We can apply “soft power” – or smart power – in the way we provide aid but also, where necessary, by shutting it off, or threatening to shut it off – and in the ways we broadcast, educate and share our own values.
Meanwhile, the immediate and over-arching concern must be the plight of Middle Eastern Christians, a shrinking and threatened minority throughout the region, subjected to the most traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment. It’s as simple as that.
The international community needs to be more consistent in its moral outrage. It denounces some countries for their suppression of minorities while appeasing others who directly enable jihad through financial support or the sale of arms. No wonder Western powers are seen as hypocrites when our business interests determine how offended we are by gross human rights abuses.
These people are being crushed in the mill, dying out, and need help. That is the future unless we act.
This is not about Christians versus Muslims. Religious persecution is taking place all over the world and whoever is responsible should be in our sights. A Pew research Centre Study begun a decade a ago has found that of the 185 nations studied religious repression was recorded in 151 of them.
It is irresponsible and indifferent for the international community to show disproportionate concern for fringe issues and politically correct concerns while ignoring and failing to understand the forces behind this flood of chaos.
Turning an indifferent blind eye merely emboldens the perpetrators to further spread their hatred.
The dramatic rise in the persecution of Christians has been accompanied by a vilification of Islam and, in Europe especially, the reawakening of Anti-Semitism.
For the future, the three Abrahamic religions need to ask deep questions of themselves about what they can to remedy these distempers – and become transformative agents in conflict management, reconciliation and healing.
Where secular governments are manifestly failing – and are too often tone deaf when it comes to religion, simply failing to understand the power of the forces which are at work – can the great faiths, with their innate claim to our deepest impulses, motivate their adherents to be peace makers, peace builders, protectors of minorities, and practitioners of pluralism, tolerance, mutual respect, and the upholding of the rule of law?
Can we devote comparable energy into countering religious extremism as the energy which has been used to spread religious extremism?
Could we not form a generation of religious leaders and educators to promote faith that is based on altruism, tolerance and love – the common good – not faith that designates all others as enemies of yourself and your God?
It was Churchill who said “what is the use of living if it is not strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” – and that we should never give up.
Our muddled and tortured world needs to make the cause of those who suffer for their religion or belief the great cause of our times.
Christians, Jews and Muslims privileged to live in free societies need to challenge our key cold indifference, speak up and defend humanity.
I began by citing Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.
It has a complex ending. Part of the novel’s denouement – based on fact – sees the rescue of many of the besieged Armenian Christians by the French navy. The French respond to distress signals and the sight of the Red Cross emblem. The question for us is will we, in our day, see the distress signals of today’s besieged Christian communities and respond in like manner or merely feign indifference?
Spectator Article on ecouraging suicide (June 30th); Prime Minister and Scotland’s First Minister Oppose Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide- Lobby Your MP – House of Commons will vote on September 11th 2015
Assisted Living: Times editorial May 27th. The Times newspaper previously argued for assisted suicide but because of the threat to public safety has come out against new legislation:
The Times says : “The death in Switzerland of Jeffrey Spector does not strengthen the case for legalised assisted suicide in Britain. It strengthens the case for the status quo.”
Last updated at 12:01AM, May 27 2015
From all the available evidence, Jeffrey Spector was a proud and successful man with a beautiful and loving family. He had everything, in other words, to live for. Instead he chose to die, haunted by the prospect of becoming paralysed because of an inoperable tumour. It was, he insisted beforehand, “a settled decision by a sound mind”.
After years of careful thought, Mr Spector, a 54- year-old advertising executive from Blackpool, took a fatal dose of sodium pentobarbital last week in an apartment rented by the Swiss charity Dignitas. He demanded the right to end his life on his own terms. On balance it is a good thing that he was able to, albeit in Zurich rather than at home. His decision will undoubtedly reopen the debate on whether he should have been able to resort legally to assisted suicide in Britain. It would be wrong, however, if this case led to a change in British law.
Mr Spector was still in command of his faculties. He could talk and drive. Paralysis was a threat because of the tumour growing on his neck, but it was not yet a reality. The risk of legalising assisted suicide is that it plants suicide as an option in the minds of more vulnerable people where it might not otherwise have existed. Still more troubling is the possibility that such an option might come to be seen by some as a duty. Mr Spector was decisive, determined and courageous. Many gravely and terminally ill people find extraordinary courage, but few choose to express it by hastening death. Most, in the end, would prefer to be cared for. No change in the law that carried even a slight risk of increasing their distress or confusion could be considered welcome.
Under current law anyone convicted of encouraging or assisting suicide faces up to 14 years in jail. Prosecutions are in practice unlikely, but the threat has tormented some determined to end their own lives. Heartrending cases such as that of Tony Nicklinson, a sufferer of “locked-in syndrome” who starved himself to death rather than expose his family to the risk of prosecution, led to the drafting of Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s bill on assisted dying in the last parliament. The bill would have legalised assisted suicide for terminally ill patients able to make a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed” decision. It passed a reading in the House of Lords and won widespread public support but was never debated in the House of Commons.
If there were a guarantee that the Falconer bill could not be misapplied, even inadvertently, it might deserve to be revived. But there is no such guarantee. There is sometimes a fine line between physical suffering and the mental anguish of feeling oneself to be a burden on others. The line between feeling oneself to be a burden and being made to feel one can be even finer. For the severely disabled, a law that made it easier to end a difficult life could compound unimaginable distress even if that were no part of its intention. And for Alzheimer’s sufferers the impact of such a law is almost impossible to gauge. In the early stages of the disease a patient might express a voluntary and rational preference for assisted death, but who is to know if that remains the patient’s preference in the confusion of full-blown dementia?
“I am jumping the gun,” Mr Spector admitted in a final interview. His wife and three daughters had begged him not to go through with it but were with him at the end. The now familiar one-way trip to Switzerland taken by some 300 Britons is both intensely poignant and unavoidably macabre. It is part of an unsatisfactory status quo, but preferable to an alternative in which suicide becomes legally equivalent to treatment and care. The existing legal framework for assisted suicide in Britain is not perfect but it takes account of such agonies as those endured by Mr Spector’s family. It is an imperfect fudge, but a humane one, and the threshold for tampering with it should be high.
Following the recent decision of Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Parliament to vote against assisted dying, the Prime Minister has announced his opposition to the latest attempts to change the law in England.
House of Commons June 10th 2015
Fiona Bruce: Any move to legalise assisted suicide is viewed with the upmost concern by disability groups and others who fear that it could pressurise the vulnerable into making decisions that are not in their best interests. Would the Prime Minister inform the House of his view on this issue?
Prime Minister: On this issue I agree very much with my honourable friend, which is: I don’t support the assisted dying proposals that have come out of the other place, I don’t support euthanasia, I know there are imperfections and problems with the current law, but I think these can be dealt with sensitively and sensibly without having…
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Mediterranean Refugees – a human catastrophe – Action in Parliament: Question Raised about the Ertirean Refugees – including Christians facing beheadings – Tackling the Crisis At Source.
Tackling the problem at source – Eritrea, Syria: and the flow of refugees
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea accusing Eritrea of crimes against humanity.
Minister’s reply (Baroness Anelay of St.Johns):The Government note the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea published on 8 June. We are carefully reviewing their findings and look forward to discussion of the report at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 23 June. We are disappointed the Commission has not been granted access to Eritrea. We continue to call on the Government of Eritrea to honour its international human rights obligations and cooperate fully with the whole UN human rights system, including the Commission.
4.21 pm June 18th 2015
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, like other noble Lords I shall speak briefly about the long-term and the short-term questions which arise from the refugee crisis.
Surely, the gravity of the situation is underlined by the speeches we have already heard during the debate, but by the lethal statistics as well. Some 3,500 people have already been fished from the sea dead, with 1,800 corpses reclaimed in this year alone.
On Monday, I raised the situation in Eritrea. Last year, Eritrea and Syria accounted for 46% of all those fleeing over the Mediterranean. As the noble Baroness said, we have to tackle this problem at source but that is a long-term issue. What do we do in the mean time? I find it impossible to justify the 187 places for resettlement in the UK, as was just referred to, against Germany’s 30,000, the Lebanon’s 1.2 million, Turkey’s 1.8 million and Jordan’s 600,000. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will respond to the comments made by Sir Peter Sutherland, the United Nations special representative of the Secretary-General, who at the weekend rebuked us for not taking our “fair share” of refugees.
I hope he will say whether he has considered the requests of the Refugee Council to consider legal avenues for refugees, such as humanitarian or asylum visas, and to look at ways to reunite families.
I also wonder whether we have consulted with other Commonwealth countries about a more coherent international response. So yes, the European Union should be involved but the Commonwealth and the entire international community, via the United Nations, should clearly be involved as well.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on 3 June, the Government said that “the vast majority” of Mediterranean migrants “are not asylum seekers” to give some justification for our not taking part in the EU quota system. But that is simply not so.
Are we seriously saying that the UNHCR is wrong when we insist that those escaping from Eritrea or Syria are not internationally recognised refugees?
Those, for instance, escaping from Eritrea are leaving a country which was designated by a United Nations commission of inquiry only a week ago as a country likely to be susceptible to crimes against humanity.
In Syria, let us consider the fate of the Yazidis, the Assyrian Christians and those who have been abducted by ISIS.
In Libya, escaping refugees have been beheaded, with another group of Eritreans having been abducted in the last few days..
In April, along with 12 other Peers drawn from across the divide, I signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph. We argued that creating internationally policed safe havens—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in north Africa and the Middle East—would reduce dangerous sailings. Asylum applications could be assessed and repatriation organised where appropriate. We said that it was an urgent priority. It still is.
The Government said that such safe havens would create magnets to encourage more people to flee from war, persecution or grinding poverty.
But what is the alternative strategy?
What exactly is our policy?
Should we tell fleeing refugees to stay and be killed, raped, or persecuted; tell them that they can illegally board boats that will then be blown out of the sea; tell them that if they reach Italy or Greece we will then slam our doors on them; or tell them we have no internationally agreed strategy for dealing with the immediate crisis or for resolving the conflicts which have driven them from their homes in the first place?
That is not moral or legal and it is not worthy of our nation.
The following Topical Question was successful in the House of Lords ballot for a topical oral question. It was the fourth oral question asked on Tuesday 16 June 2015:
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the UN Commission of Inquiry Report that found that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea, and of the impact of such crimes on the exodus of refugees from that country. To be answered by the Earl of Courtown (Foreign and Commonwealth Office).
Question: June 16th 2015e
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the UN Commission of Inquiry Report that found that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea, and of the impact of such crimes on the exodus of refugees from that country.
My Lords, we are concerned by the commission’s findings that widespread human rights violations are being committed in Eritrea and that these may constitute crimes against humanity. We have made clear to the Government of Eritrea that they must honour their international obligations and that improved respect for human rights is required to stem the flow of irregular migration.
My Lords, does the noble Earl see the connection between crimes against humanity, which include rape, torture and extra-judicial killings, and the 300,000 Eritreans who have fled that country? We see pictures every day on our TV screens of people taking to the high seas and even facing execution by beheading by ISIS as they try to escape via Libya. Given that connection, must we not tackle this problem at the root and ensure that regimes like that of Afwerki in Eritrea are hauled before the International Criminal Court and held to account for their actions? Will the noble Earl tell us, therefore, why we have agreed a package—via the EU—of £300 million in aid to Eritrea which requires nothing to be done about these human rights violations?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. We certainly agree that a comprehensive plan is needed to tackle migration. That means greater engagement with source countries to address why migrants leave in the first place, through development aid addressing human rights abuses and tackling conflict. We have stepped up bilateral engagement with Eritrea to that end. We have also made it clear to the Government of Eritrea that they must honour their international obligations and that improved respect for human rights is needed to stem the flow of irregular migration. We keep the human rights situation in Eritrea under close scrutiny and will discuss the commission’s conclusions at the UN Human Rights Council on 23 June.
My Lords, when I first visited Eritrea in 1988 during the 30-year Ethiopian-Eritrean war, people suffered terribly, as they do now. Twenty-four years after independence, the dictator Isaias Afwerki rules, and at last the UN has said, as I am sure the Minister knows, that he has a regime that runs through terror, not through law. Having presumably read the UN report, does the Minister not agree that the Eritrean tyranny is on a par with that of North Korea and should be treated accordingly by the United Kingdom and by the international community?
The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, having visited that country, is certainly very aware of the terrible things that have happened there. We are deeply concerned by the commission’s report published on 8 June. We are reviewing its findings carefully and will discuss next steps with international partners at the UN Human Rights Council on 23 June. At this stage, the commission has not concluded that crimes against humanity are taking place; it has called for further investigation into whether this is the case. One problem is that the commission was not allowed into Eritrea in the first place.
My Lords, there have been consistent reports of gun-running from Eritrea to Somalia, Sudan and other such places and destabilisation of some of the surrounding countries. What discussions have Her Majesty’s Government, or their European colleagues, had with the African Union about the extent to which Eritrea is actively destabilising the region?
A number of meetings have been arranged between the African Union and the EU under the Khartoum process, which the noble Lord will be aware of. There will be a further meeting later in the autumn when more of these matters will be discussed.
My Lords, now that the Prime Minister has said on 3 June that,
“we need to break the link between getting on a boat and achieving residence in Europe”,—[Official Report, Commons, 03/06/15; col. 583.]
and has called for arrangements to be made for the possibility of returning illegal immigrants to Africa, will Her Majesty’s Government start negotiations in the Security Council to get a United Nations mandate to establish in Africa—preferably somewhere in Libya—a holding area to which people can be returned and where they can be decently treated and properly assessed as to what should happen to them next?
My noble friend is quite right that people should be decently treated. From what has been happening, it is obvious that they are not being decently treated. I will pass his question on the UN Security Council to the department. As I have said, we have to cut the link in Eritrea. The Eritreans have said that they will keep their national service only for 18 months. Also, all the young men—up to 200 a day—are leaving Eritrea, so the workforce is disappearing.
My Lords, picking up on that point, there is evidence that national service conscripts are being deployed as labour in foreign-owned mines. Will the Minister support an ILO investigation and intervention on such claims of forced labour?
As the noble Lord is aware, Eritrea is very much a closed country. I was not aware of the forced labour incidents. I will of course pass this on to the department and, if there is any more information that I can give him, I will write to him.
My Lords, what has become of the last lot of Christians unfortunately intercepted by ISIL on their way to the Mediterranean?
My Lords, as I understand it, ISIL has intercepted a group of Christian Eritreans. Her Majesty’s Government are aware of reports of these nationals, 86 in number, who were abducted in Libya on 3 June by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. We have no further information at this time of what is happening. We have seen appalling acts of terror inside Libya, including the targeting of others because of their faith. At the moment, there is no further information, but we will be watching closely.
Unless the international community tackles conflict, crimes against humanity and egregious human rights violations in the Middle East and Africa, the vast number of people who have been fleeing will continue, adding to the refugee crisis. Along with Syria, the situation in Eritrea is bordering on the catastrophic (and more than 300,000 have already fled). These reports are all from the last week:
Home Office weighs bleak UN report on rights abuses by Eritrea government:
New UN report details litany of human rights violations, ‘rule by fear’ in Eritrea:
ERITREA – LAST IN THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX FOR THE PAST EIGHT YEARS
Eritrea: Scathing UN Report
Commission Cites Possible Crimes Against Humanity:
Libya: Isis Kidnaps 86 Eritrean Christian Migrants, Sparks Beheading Fear
Politics Live: http://polho.me/1AKRXwv
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they and their international partners have made in deterring the trafficking of migrants and creating safe havens in North Africa and the Middle East.
My Lords, since the extraordinary European Council in April, EU member states have agreed to establish a military CSDP operation to disrupt trafficking and smuggling networks. That is a considerable achievement, but we also need to address the root causes of that migration, so we are taking forward initiatives in source and transit countries. The regional development and protection programme in the Middle East is one model that we may be able to develop further.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for…
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Rohingya migrants stand and sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. The boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants — including many young children — was found drifting in Thai waters on May 14, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days. AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULTCHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images
Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to Lord Alton of Liverpool’s written parliamentary question (HL45) about the Plight of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the circumstances faced by Rohingya refugees; what action they have taken to encourage the international community to support these refugees; and, in particular, what discussions they have had with the…
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July 1st Report on the Targetting of Christians worldwide, the case of Raif Badawi – facing yet more public beating – and the right to believe or not to believe.
July 1, 2015
Persecution of Christians around the globe is rising, a special report on a dangerous issue
The Islamic State terrorist attack, in which almost 40 holidaymakers were killed in Tunisia, accompanied by atrocities in France and Kuwait, highlights again the murderous outrages the group is willing to commit. Christians have been in the firing line of the IS terrorists and other terror groups in the Middle East and the rest of the globe.
THE MIDDLE East’s population of 12 million Christians will be halved by 2020, if current demographic trends continue. Christians made up a quarter of the Middle East’s population 100 years ago, now they are less than five per cent and just one per cent of the world’s Christians.
Today, Christians are being persecuted from North Korea to Pakistan, from China to Sudan. Britain’s heir to the throne, Prince Charles, described threats to Christians in the Middle East as ‘an indescribable tragedy’.
Systematic persecution is not a new phenomenon. The Roman Empire outlawed the new growing Christian faith and condemned all Christians to death. Campaigns against Armenian Christians and, in German South West Africa – Namibia – of racial extermination of the Herero and Nama people, were the first genocides of the 20th century 1,600 years later.
Thousands have been killed, churches and ancient monasteries blown up, whole communities forced to flee, bishops and priests – such as Father Jacob Murad, Bishops Hanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazici – abducted, some executed. Torture, beheadings and even ‘crucifixion’ – by hanging corpses of the executed on crosses – has become commonplace
Approximately 10 per cent of the two billion Christians in the world suffer persecution, according to Gyula Orban, an official of Aid to the Church In Need, the Catholic relief agency.
Aleppo’s Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart’s archbishopric in Aleppo has been hit more than 20 times by mortar shells and was under fire again in June 2015. He said Christians had lost their lives, homes and livelihoods and are being traumatised by Syria’s civil war.
‘ISIS, which has already killed thousands in the region, is terrifying the faithful in Aleppo. After attacks on Maloula, Mosul, Idleb and Palmyra, what is the West waiting for before it intervenes? What are the great nations waiting for before they put a halt to these monstrosities’, he said.
There are fewer than 100,000 of the 250,000 Christians left in Aleppo. Thousands have been killed, churches and ancient monasteries blown up, whole communities forced to flee, bishops and priests – such as Father Jacob Murad, Bishops Hanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazici – abducted, some executed. Torture, beheadings and even ‘crucifixion’ – by hanging corpses of the executed on crosses – has become commonplace.
Syrian Christians living in areas controlled by the Islamic State (IS) are forced to convert to Islam or pay a punitive jizya tax.
In the seventh century, Christians – in what is now Syria – had to pay half an ounce of gold to pay for the privilege of living under the protection of the Islamic Caliphate. Failure to pay left two options – convert or be killed. In February 2014, 20 or so Christian families still living in the northern Syrian town of Raqqa faced the same choice. The cost of protection is now the equivalent of US$650 in Syrian pounds.
Vast tracts of Syria and Iraq have become lawless and ungovernable with faultlines opening between Islamic extremists and moderates, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Sunnis and Shias – with funds and arms flowing in from the Gulf and Tehran.
Law abiding minority communities – mainly Christians – have been caught in the crossfire. They have lived in places like Aleppo and the Nineveh Plains for 2,000 years and continue to worship and speak in the Aramaic language.
Joint Syrian and Kurdish forces have recaptured a number of Christian villages in north eastern Syria from IS recently, although a huge retaliatory attack is underway. Many Christians have attempted to flee Syria, some risking treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean.
The brutality of IS manifests itself in beheadings accompanied by a blitzkrieg on antiquities and ancient artefacts, and the destruction of Christian churches and the defilement of Shia mosques. The fall of Palmyra follows the bulldozing of the ancient city of Nimrud, and demolition of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas and the Sufi monuments in Mali.
IS is attempting to eradicate the collective memory of humanity, destroying all that is ‘different’, while cynically smuggling and selling the antiquities which they do not destroy to fund their campaign.
Turkey is turning a blind eye.
IS presents this as a clash of civilisations but the manner in which they debase all that is civilised simply pits civilisation against barbarism. IS is also at war with other Muslims and those of other faith traditions.
Hatred of Christians
It describes itself as the Islamic State, but this is a misnomer. It is certainly not a state and many Muslim scholars challenge the Islamic basis on which it forces Christians to convert or die as the Quran says there should be no compulsion in religion.
This same hatred of Christians has been nurtured by other radical groups from the Taliban to al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.
Jihadist ideology by al-Shabaab-affiliated Islamist militants saw Christian students specifically singled out in an attack where 147 students died at Kenya’s Garissa University College.
A Christian couple was burned alive in a kiln earlier in 2015 by a mob of 1,300 people in Pakistan while their young children were forced to watch. This followed the killing of 85 Anglicans who were praying in their church at Peshawar in 2013. British politicians have raised the tragic case of Nauman Masih, a 15 year-old Christian boy, who was beaten, tortured and burnt alive on 9 April, 2015, in Lahore, after he was identified as a Christian.
This follows the murder of Pakistan’s only Christian Cabinet Minister, Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, in 2011. Nobody has been convicted for this.
Havoc and fear
Pakistan’s first President, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, said at its founding in 1947, ‘Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed.’
Minorities in Pakistan are neither safeguarded or protected with only about 1.5 per cent or three million Christians in 2015 out of a population of 182 million people.
Boko Haram is creating havoc and fear in Nigeria, graphically illustrated by the February 2014 abduction of young girls and the murder of 59 students from the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, while they slept.
Churches have been bombed, pastors executed, and Christians targeted despite the government’s insistence that it is tackling Boko Haram. The terror group, which killed more than 80 people in attacks in June 2015, openly says its interim goal is ‘to eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country’.
Nigeria’s north-south conflict is reminiscent of Sudan’s civil war, (1983 – 2005), when two million people, mainly Christians, were killed.
Khartoum continues to target whole communities. It has dropped more than 2,500 bombs on its civilian, predominantly Christian, populations in Blue Nile and South Kordofan and has committed crimes against humanity in Darfur with ethnic cleansing by co-religionists.
The unremitting violence has led to a massive displacement and generated vast numbers of refugees. Sudan’s near neighbour, Eritrea, is responsible for around 18 per cent of the 200,000 immigrants reaching Europe in 2014, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Boko Haram is creating havoc and fear in Nigeria, graphically illustrated by the February 2014 abduction of young girls and the murder of 59 students from the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, while they slept
Eritrea is the North Korea of Africa with one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Protestors gathered in London to mark the 13th anniversary of the imposition of severe restrictions on churches in Eritrea, the deposing and house arrest of the Eritrean patriarch, Abune Antonnios and imprisonment of other Christians. Fleeing Eritrean Christians braved arduous journeys to reach Libya only to be captured there by IS and beheaded.
Freedom of belief is at the heart of the struggle for the future of whole societies and countries.
Egypt was horrified in February 2015 by the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts who were working in Libya. I suggested in 2013 that we should compare the charred husk of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin in 1938, with pictures of the blackened walls of Degla’s ruined Church of the Virgin Mary, and why August 2013 represented Egypt’s Kristallnacht.
This was one of many churches attacked, along with Christian homes and businesses. The situation has improved under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi but the head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Dr Mohamed Abul-Ghar, warned that the forced displacement of Coptic families by customary meetings is contrary to Egypt’s Constitution, the principles of citizenship, humanity and justice. These remarks followed the displacement of a number of Coptic families in Beni Suef because a member of these families was accused of allegedly publishing cartoons of the Prophet of Islam on his Facebook account. The man is illiterate.
Egyptian writer and novelist Fatima Naaot, in a message to the president, says that the displacement of Christian families from their villages and the burning of their homes in front of security forces is a scandal which undermines the sovereignty of the Egyptian state and indicates an absence of the rule of law and the fall in the prestige of the government and the president.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called for a ‘religious revolution’ in 2015 to re-examine those aspects of Islamic thinking which ‘make an enemy of the whole world’. But, despite his calls for religious renewal, ‘contempt of religion’ and blasphemy charges are occurring more frequently.
These can be an impediment to healthy and constructive religious debate and can encourage vindictive acts.
It against this background – from Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, and many other countries in which Christians and others are persecuted for their beliefs – that June 2015 witnessed a human rights conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on combatting intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.
Was it a black sense of humour or an astute move to have asked Saudi Arabia to host this event?
Saudi Arabia is one of the worst violators of religious freedom, and Saudi Wahhabism has fuelled many of these conflicts.
Given the West’s oil dependent, arms-providing, symbiotic relationship with Saudi Arabia, it is hard to imagine much being said about the Saudi human rights activist, Raif Badawi, at the conference. He is in prison for the crime of religious dissent and under threat of further public flogging and potential execution
Saudi Arabia ranks sixth on the 2014 World Watch List of most repressive countries for Christians, a list compiled by the charity, Open Doors.
When a country like Saudi Arabia passes legislation defining atheists as terrorists, beheads or tortures its citizens, and refuses to protect the right of minorities to follow their beliefs, or to have no belief, is it any wonder that such actions are mimicked by IS?
Saudi Arabia beheads people in the public square which is routinely practised by IS.
Rule of law
The Jeddah Conference aimed to discuss how to effectively implement UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on combating religious intolerance, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against people due to their religion or beliefs.
Saudi Arabia, unlike IS, really is an Islamic state and it would be the first place to start heralding an acceptance of pluralism of belief and upholding diversity and difference.
In his opening speech to the Conference, OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani said that the international human rights community attached great importance to combating religious intolerance. Mr Madani correctly observed that religious hatred needs to be addressed at all levels, including the need to ascertain the limits of freedom of expression to determine where it ends and transforms into incitement to hatred.
World leaders face the challenge of championing and upholding the rule of law and the protection of minorities – beyond conferences and speeches. That is the antidote to Jihadist ideology, not assassination squads or endless aerial bombardment.
The war lords and regime leaders responsible for persecution and atrocities should face justice. The challenge is to increase the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court, systematically collect evidence, document the atrocities and demand the United Nations Security Council instigates prosecutions.
More safe havens are needed to protect beleaguered groups of Christians, and others, and every foreign minister needs to promote Article 18 obligations.
Dag Hammarskjold, one of the great Secretary Generals of the UN (1953-1961), once said, ‘The UN wasn’t founded to take mankind to paradise but rather to save humanity from hell.’
It is hard to see that the international community is achieving even that limited objective.
The UN, our Western legislators, policymakers and media need to become literate about religion. The BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, said, ‘If you don’t understand religion – including the abuse of religion – it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world.’
The central question of how nations learn to live together, tolerantly respecting and rejoicing in the dignity of difference is at the heart of all these challenges. It means emphasising a common humanity; promoting the ability of members of all religious faiths to manifest their religion; and allow all people to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society.
Aid programmes and humanitarian interventions have to reflect values and be used to protect minorities, provide security, and to open the possibility of decent lives for those currently trying to flee their native homelands.
Countries can apply ‘soft power’ – or smart power – in the way aid is provided and by shutting it off, or threatening to shut it off, where necessary – and in how values are shared through education and the media.
The immediate and over-arching concern remains the plight of Middle Eastern Christians.
The international community has to be more consistent in its moral outrage rather than denouncing some countries for their suppression of minorities while appeasing others who directly enable jihad through financial support. Western powers are seen as hypocrites when business interests determine responses to human rights abuses.
This is not about Christians versus Muslims. Religious persecution takes place all over the world and those responsible should be prosecuted. A Pew Research Centre study found that religious repression was recorded in 151 of 185 countries studied in the last 10 years.
The dramatic rise in the persecution of Christians has been accompanied by a vilification of Islam and, in Europe especially, the reawakening of anti-Semitism.
The three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – need to ask deep questions about what they can to remedy these issues – and become transformative agents in conflict management, reconciliation and healing.
World leaders face the challenge of championing and upholding the rule of law and the protection of minorities – beyond conferences and speeches. That is the antidote to Jihadist ideology, not assassination squads or endless aerial bombardment
Can the great faiths motivate their followers to be peace-makers, peace-builders, protectors of minorities, and practitioners of pluralism, tolerance, mutual respect, and the upholding of the rule of law? Could global society devote comparable energy into countering religious extremism as the energy which has been used to spread religious extremism?
Countries have to make the cause of those who suffer for their religion or belief the great cause of our times. Christians, Jews and Muslims privileged to live in free societies have to challenge cold indifference and speak up and defend humanity
Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they pressed for the case of Raif Badawi to be discussed at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Conference in Jeddah on 3 and 4 June; and if so, what was the response of the government of Saudi Arabia.
The conference was a multilateral event hosted by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and not by Saudi Arabia, and therefore was not an appropriate forum to discuss individual Saudi Arabian legal cases. However, we are extremely concerned about Raif Badawi’s case and have discussed it at the most senior levels in the Government of Saudi Arabia, most recently on 9 June. We await the outcome of the current Saudi Arabian Supreme Court review of the case.
Saudi Arabia: Raif Badawi
Question: Thursday June 11th 2015
Asked by Lord Avebury
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Saudi Arabia about the confirmation of a sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison against Raif Badawi.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, we are extremely concerned about Raif Badawi’s case and have discussed it at the most senior levels in the Government of Saudi Arabia, most recently on 9 June. The Foreign Secretary discussed this case in February and March with the Saudi Minister of the Interior, His Royal Highness Mohammad bin Naif, now Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The case is under active consideration and we will continue to watch it closely.
Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, when the first 50 lashes were administered to Mr Badawi…
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